Here is a clip from the 4th Tatsushige no Kai showing actors Udaka Norishige and Yamada Isumi performing the shimai dance excerpt from the noh Tsuchigumo. In the play, a monstrous spider disguised as a monk throws spider webs at the warrior Raikō. The spider webs are made of thin strips of Japanese paper with small lead weights attached to their extremities.
On Sunday 17 August I took part in the 2014 Kei’un-kai, INI Memorial Taikai performance, a collective recital in which a great number of Udaka Michishige’s students performed dance and chant excepts, as well as full Noh plays. This year’s highlights were the Noh Atsumori and Funa-benkei. As for me, I danced the maibayashi from the Noh Tōru, featuring a godan-hayamai, an instrumental dance in five parts. I enjoyed performing in an environment that is becoming increasingly more familiar to me. Everyone has been extremely supportive during the preparation and on the day of the performance.
Oddly enough though, the most difficult performance of the day was singing in the jiutai for a cluster of seven shimai (dance excerpts at the accompaniment of a chorus of four). They were all basic pieces (Tsunemasa kuse, Yashima, Momiji-gari, Kochō, Yuki kuse-kiri, Hagoromo kuse, Kakitsubata kiri), but this was my first time in such a formal situation. In the case of a shimai, four jiutai singers are sitting at the back of the stage, facing the front. I was in the lowest ranking position (A in the drawing), upstage right, which is coincidentally the most difficult to be in: it is the furthest from the jigashira (chorus leader, sitting in position C in the drawing), and the closest to the waki-shōmen side of the stage, where the audience is sitting and can hear your voice clearly: not a comfortable place for a beginner. In addition, the way jiutai is sung for shimai is different from the way it is performed for a maibayashi or for a full Noh. It is not easy to explain all differences, but generally speaking a jiutai for shimai is ‘lighter’, often quicker because it is not forced to respect the extension of syllables regulated by the rhythm of the drums, and all pauses (ma) between verses. This is particularly evident in hiranori chant type, in which twelve syllables match an 8 beat rhythmical pattern. It is less evident in chūnori and ōnori, where the syllables subdivision is more regular and a certain set rhythm has to be maintain.
The way jiutai chant for shimai is performed does not depend on the jigashira’s extemporaneous feeling. It maintains a rhythm that all four chanters have to follow, but should not be sung ‘as if’ drums were there, or it would result in a boring, predictable recitation. Chorus of sole amateurs or novices often end up singing this way. In a professional shimai jiutai, notes are often shortened, and the speed is generally faster, but it maintains a certain jo/ha/kyu. Talking about this with Udaka-sensei the other day, he confirmed that in order to sing well in a shimai jiutai, I would first need to master utai with the percussions, then I will be able to understand better the utai for shimai, which definitely stands at a higher level of expertise.
Now that I have learned my first godan dance, I will continue to research progressively challenging mai (instrumental dances). My next assignment is the maibayashi from the Noh Kantan, a beautiful piece featuring the gaku, a stately dance characterised by many hyoshi or feet stamps. At the same time, I will continue studying various ji-utai for Noh that other people will perform as shite. It will be important for me not only to learn how to sing, but also to deepen my understanding of rhythm.
On Wednesday 25 June 2014 I took part to the event Wayō no Saikai, which I have blogged about here. In the original plan Udaka Tatsushige, my teacher’s eldest son, was supposed to sing and dance Noh excerpts, as representative of the Japanese classical repertoire. Unfortunately Tatsushige-sensei was unable to make it to the performance so his father, Michishige-sensei, took his place. I took part in various Noh pieces that were performed during the evening, but what I was concerned the most with was the shimai dance excerpt from the Noh Yamamba, for which I was supposed to sing as the only jiutai chorus singer.
Until now I have only sung in jiutai with other chanters – from a minimum of 2-3 to a maximum of 8, depending on the situation. This has been the first time for me to be the only singer in a shimai dance. When singing in a jiutai the most important thing is memorise the text and make sure that you follow the chorus leader. Ideally you should memorise the text and score perfectly, and sing with confidence while continuously paying attention to the chorus leader. However, if you are a beginner you will probably be told that the most important thing is not to get into other people’s way. In other words, don’t sing too loud, pay extra care to fit into the pauses, etc.
Things will start to change when as your understanding of rhythm, pauses, and fushi embellishments improves. Now you know enough to sing full force, which means that people are actually going to hear you! You won’t be able to hide behind a wall of other voices anymore. This stage is the beginning of a new phase which I feel I have now entered. Maturity means will and capability to be responsible for your own voice: you have to follow the leader but be able to continue singing even if someone makes a mistake. You have to be independent while harmonising with the others.
When I learned that Tatsushige-sensei could not make it to the performance, and that Michishige-sensei, my direct teacher, would stand in his place, I was rather worried: in a usual setting a junior/student like myself would dance, while the senior/teacher would sing. In addition, singing in a solo jiutai means that there is literally nowhere to hide, no one helping in case of emergency. It also means that (obviously) there is no leader to follow. This might have been my only chance in this life to sing as a soloist for Udaka-sensei. So I did it, and it went well. Udaka-sensei’s dance was easy to accompany even if Yamamba is a piece I had only rehearsed twice before the actual performance.
The other day I received the provisional programme for our forthcoming Gala Performance on August 17th (more news to come about this) and I spotted my Japanese name (高谷大悟 – Takaya Daigo) among the four jiutai chanters for a bulk of shimai that other students will dance. This is a position that, in our school, only professional take. A good sign, I think.
People often wonder what differences are there between Noh stylistic schools, or ryū. In this video Kanze actor Katayama Shingo (on the left), and Kongō actor Teshima 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 an oversimplification 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…)
<br /><a href=”http://www.ustream.tv/” style=”padding: 2px 0px 4px; width: 400px; background: #ffffff; display: block; color: #000000; font-weight: normal; font-size: 10px; text-decoration: underline; text-align: center;” target=”_blank”>Video streaming by Ustream</a>
On January 8th 2014 the ARC Art Research Centre at Ritsumeikan University will host the event ‘Internationalisation of Japanese Performing Arts – Noh as Culture of the World’. The event combines performance, theory and discussion. See below for details (in English and Japanese).
The first part features shimai dance excerpts by masters of the Kongo School of Noh Udaka Michishige (Sanemori), Udaka Tatsushige (Yashima) and Udaka Norishige (Tomoe). I will also perform a shimai under my stage name Takaya Daigo (Atsumori – kiri). In the second part of the event I will showcase my current research: ‘The role of amateurs in the world of Noh’, as a work-in-progress. In this lecture I will explore the various kinds of amateur practitioners that populate the cultural world of Noh and how their social, economic and political role has changed throughout history. Unlike other kinds art professionals, most Noh performers depend on teaching amateurs in order to socially and financially sustain their artistic activities. Noh is currently undergoing a difficult phase in its history, with dwindling audiences and a lack of young blood among its professional ranks. In order to look for trajectories of solution to these issues, I believe that is necessary to consider the role of amateurs as one of the pillars on which the Noh world is based, and understand the complex relationship between audience, amateurs, and professionals. In the third part of the afternoon I will invite Udaka Michishige to discuss the role of amateurs in his experience as Noh actor and leader of the Kei’un-kai and of the INI International Noh Institute.
Internationalisation of Japanese Performing Arts
– Noh as Culture of the World –
January, 8th 2014 (Wednesday)
Ritsumeikan University, Kinugasa Campus
Art Research Center
16:00 Opening remarks
16:40 Performance (shimai)
Atsumori – kiri Takaya Daigo
Tomoe Udaka Norishige
Yashima Udaka Tatsushige
Sanemori Udaka Michishige
17:10 Lecture – The role of amateurs in the world of Noh -Diego Pellecchia (Visiting Researcher, Art Research Centre, Ritsumeikan University).
17:45 Udaka Michishige and Diego Pellecchia in conversation
18:30 Closing remarks
The event is open and free of charge
June 29~30 (Saturday and Sunday), 2013
Kongo Nohgakudo, Karasuma Ichijo-sagaru, Kamigyo-ku, Kyoto 602-0912
Tel: 075 -441-7222
Please join us at the Kongo Nohgakudo for an opportunity to experience Noh in a variety of forms: shimai, dance excerpts; Maibayashi, dance excerpts with the accompaniment of the Noh ensemble of instruments as well as the chorus; Rengin, concert style performance of a Noh excerpt performed by students in formal kimono and hakama; and 3 fully costumed Noh performances each day.
• Descriptions of the content of each piece will be available in programs provided in English, French, German and Italian.
• The recital is free of charge and open to all. We look forward to seeing you at the Nohgakudo.
Day I Featuring International Noh Institute Students
June 29th (Saturday)
(from about 11.00am)
仕舞 Shimai dance excerpts in formal wear performed to the accompaniment of a small chorus.
舞囃子 Maibayashi excerpt to the accompaniment of the Noh ensemble and chorus:
「胡 蝶」KOCHO ‘The Butterfly’ shite: Cristina Picelli.
Bangai-Shimai Dances by professional Noh performers (UDAKA Tatsushige and UDAKA Norishige):
(from about 12:00, noon)
Noh:『清経』KIYOTSUNE Shite: Diego Pellecchia Tsure: Monique Arnaud.
(about 1:20 p.m.)
Rengin concert-style recitation of an excerpt from a Noh.
Bangai-Shimai (performed by UDAKA Michishige):
(from about 2:00 p.m.)
Noh:『小鍛冶』 KOKAJI ‘The Swordsmith’ Shite: SOMYO Tadasuke
(from about 3:20 p.m.)
Shimai, dance excerpts
(from about 4:00 p.m.)
Noh: 『猩 々』SHOJO Shite: HIRASAWA Yumiko
Day II Featuring Keiun-kai Students
June 30th (Sunday)
Rengin concert-style recitation of an excerpt from a Noh
(from about 11:20 p.m.)
(about 11:40 p.m.)
Noh: 『羽 衣・盤渉』HAGOROMO Banshiki ‘The Robe of Feathers’ Shite: ITOH Yuki
Maibayashi excerpt with the accompaniment of the Noh ensemble:
(about 1:00 p.m.)
Rengin concert style recitation of an excerpt from a Noh.
Bangai Shimai(performed by UDAKA Michishige):
(from about 2:00 p.m.)
Noh: 『黒塚・白頭』KUROZUKA ‘The Black Mound’ Hakutoh Shite: KUROTAKE Sadato
(from about 3:10 p.m.)
Maibayashi excerpt with the accompaniment of the Noh ensemble:
(from about 4:00 p.m.)
Noh: 『猩 々』SHOJO Shite: NAGAO Atsushi
*Feel free to come and go quietly as you please during the recital.
*Be sure your cell phone is set on silent or manner mode.
*You may take pictures, but the use of flash is strictly prohibited.
*Please enjoy the tea and sweets provided.
Just a quick note to signal the Shinshun Wakakusa Noh on January 14th in Nara (Prefectural Public Hall). The Oiemoto Kongo Hisanori will perform the Noh Shari (a very dynamic play in which a demon tries to steal the relics of a Buddha, only to be chased and chastised by the god Idaten) while Udaka Michishige will perform the shimai of the Noh Kasuga-Ryujin (‘The Dragon-God of Kasuga’, almost a site-specific piece!). Details here (in Japanese).
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 hayashi orchestra 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.
I am going to perform the shimai (short dance excerpt of a longer play) of the Noh Yashima on Friday 23rd November, on the occasion of Udaka Michishige’s performance at the Matsuyama Shimin Noh at the Dogo Yamatoya Nogakudo in Matsuyama.
This is my third shura-mono (warrior play) shimai after I danced the kiri section of Tamura, and the maibayashi of Kiyotsune. As I have pointed out in a previous post, dancing shura-mono (second category plays) is rather challenging because of the kamae posture which in the case of warriors often switches to the hanmi (lit. ‘half-body) martial mode. This posture, thrusting half of the body forward, and keeping the other half covered, is probably familiar to those who practice any kind of martial art. The idea is offering the least possible amount of body to the opponent, while being ready to attack.
Unlike the basic kamae, this position is fairly asymmetrical and requires advanced knowledge of weight distribution to master. One of the tricky bits of hanmi is walking: while basic kamae does not change while walking – one does not change much of the posture when either walking or simply standing – it is not possible to keep hanmi while taking more than a just a few steps. This means that the actor starts a movement in hanmi, then changes into a more symmetrical feet posture, and then ends the movement again in hanmi. Therefore, the last step of a walking sequence should be performed so that the body ends being in hanmi. Normally this produces a rather dramatic effect of enlargement of the figure of the shite as he comes to a halt, especially when approaching sumi, the corner of the Noh stage that is thrusted into the auditorium. Hanmi also influences all the other kata, for example shikake-hiraki (pointing and opening) might be performed in a right hanmi when pointing, switching to left hanmi when opening, and then back to normal.
My teacher seems to be keen on teaching me warrior dances lately: I don’t feel I am particularly prone to this kind of characters, but I trust my sensei’s experience of knowing when it is the right time to progress on this path.
Wish me good luck! (I might or might not have pictures of the performance to show in the future).