Ominameshi (Kongo Monthly Noh October 2016)

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This coming Sunday, 23rd of October Udaka Michishige is going to perform the Noh Ominameshi 女郎花 at the Kongo Noh Theatre in Kyoto.

Here is a summary of the play.

A Traveling Priest comes to Mt. Otoko on the western outskirts of the capital in the autumn and seeing that the area is covered with beautiful ominaeshi or ominameshi (a yellow-flowered valerian), one of the seven autumn herbs, he recalls poetic references to it and decides to pick one. Just as he is about to do so he is stopped by an Old Man. The Old Man explains that he is the guardian of the flowers. The Priest wonders that this particular flower is protected. Exchanges of poetic references with the Old Man convince the Priest that he is a man of feeling. The Old Man then takes the Priest to the Iwashimizu Hachiman Shrine where he shows him two graves which he describes as being that of a man and a woman. The woman’s grave is covered with ominameshi and the Old Man reveals that they were husband, Ono no Yorikaze, a man of the area of Mt. Otoko, and wife, a woman from the Capital and that there is a story behind their deaths. Entreating the Priest to pray for their souls, the Old Man disappears.

Later the spirits of the man and his wife appear. They describe how the wife drowned herself after being treated coldly by Yorikaze. When ominameshi blossoms appeared on her grave Yorikaze was overwhelmed with remorse and also drowned himself. He suffers in hell for his unwitting cruelty and prays for deliverance for their souls. (Rebecca Teele Ogamo)

 

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— Diego Pellecchia

Thoughts on the forthcoming Kei’un-kai INI Gala Recital 2016

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Next Sunday (August 21st) I will join the Kei’un-kai, INI Taikai Gala Recital celebrating Udaka Michishige’s 70th birthday. I am going to perform in a number of pieces, among which the shimai solo dance excerpt from the Noh Kurama Tengu. Although this is the only piece in which I will perform as a dancer, hence one may think it is the highlight of the day from my point of view, I am more concerned with practising the many other numbers in which I will sing as a member of the jiutai chorus.
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Kongo School chant books, and the program for the forthcoming recital.

As for Kurama Tengu, I have performed the maibayashi (longer excerpt with music) just a couple of weeks ago. For the Taikai recital I will perform the relatively shorter, latter part of the dance as shimai (solo excerpt to the accompaniment of a chorus of four, without music). In the Kongo school this shimai follows the choreography of the hakuto (‘white wig’) variation of the play, featuring complex kata sequences (movements). The play narrates the encounter between the boy Ushiwakamaru, who will later become the General Minamoto no Yoshitsune, and the Great Tengu of Mount Kurama. The Tengu, impressed by Yoshitsune’s courage, promises to train the boy in the martial arts, preparing him for his future battles against the rival Heike family, which he will eventually defeat. The difficulty of this dance lies in being able to make strong yet controlled movements, expressing the power as well as the stateliness and supernatural nature of the elder Tengu.
However, as I mentioned before, my major concern is not this dance, but rather the various other pieces in which I will serve as chorus member. Looking at the program from the beginning (9:00am) I am slated to sing in
  1. The chorus for Kami-uta, the recitation of the chant from the ritual performance Okina, often performed at the beginning of celebrations such as an important birthday. Difficulties: here Kami-uta serves as ‘opening ritual’ – we will perform with formal kamishimoIt is an honour for me to partake in this recitation.
  2. Immediately after Kami-uta I will perform in the su-utai solo chant recitation of the full Noh Shunkan, recounting the story of three men exiled to Kikai Island after they failed a coup attempt against Taira no Kiyomori. Two of them (tsure) are pardoned, while Shunkan (shite) has to remain on the island alone. I am going to take the role of one of the tsure, Taira no Yasuyori. However, in su-utai recitations singers chanting the part of shite, waki or tsure are also singing in the chorus. Difficulties involved in this: 1. Yasuyori and Naritsune (the other shite) get to sing long sections in unison. 2. Yasuyori reads the pardon letter – highly dramatic scene. 3. The chorus part in this play is particularly difficult.
  3. Chorus for a round of 12 different shimai. Difficulties: 1. shimai chant typically is faster and with shorter pauses compared to chant performed with music, putting more emphasis on adjusting the tempo to the shite’s acting. Without musicians as reference, being able to follow the chorus leader is crucial. 2. being the lowest in rank, I will be sitting upstage right, the farthest from the chorus leader (sitting upstage center-left). It will be more difficult to isolate and follow the leader’s voice while hearing one more voice to my left, as well as while producing a loud voice myself. 3. this round of shimai consists of basic pieces, but still, twelve assorted dances is a good number. It will be important to be able to quickly switch from mood to mood.
  4. Chorus for the maibayashi from the noh Tomoe, the only warrior piece in which the shite is a woman. Difficulties: 1. Tomoe is a long piece, featuring chant sections that range from melodic to dynamic, from poetic description to energetic narration. 2. A chorus for a maibayashi is typically composed of four members, meaning that individual mistakes are clearly heard. 3. Once more my position is the farthest from the chorus leader, yet the closest to the flute player (in this case Sugi Ichikazu-sensei, one of the highest ranking flute players in Kyoto), who will be able to hear every syllable slip or rhythmical inaccuracy. Sugi-sensei listening to my chant is on my mind every time I practice Tomoe 🙂
  5. Chorus for the full Noh Sesshoseki – nyotai (The Death Stone). This is the second time I sing in the chorus for this play, which is very useful as I understand the development of the mood of the play better. Difficulties: 1. downside of having sung the play already: my position is not the lowest. I am now sitting to the extreme left of the front row, meaning that I am the closest to the audience, as well as to the waki who will be sitting in the downstage left corner for most of the play. Luckily during our last training session in Matsuyama I could practice the chorus chant alone, while another students and Udaka-sensei would play the drums. Thiswas very useful for memorizing the ‘ma’, or pauses between phrases.
All in all, this is quite a bit of work for a non-professional like me. I am spending most of my practice time memorising chant. At the same time, I am very grateful to have so many chances to sing in such a great variety of pieces. 頑張ります!I’ll do my best!

Live subtitles on tablet at Noh performances

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This is something I’ve been involved in recently, translating Japanese into English for Hinoki Noh publishing house. I hope I will be able to translate texts in Italian too, some day! Multilingual subtitles at the Noh theatre would be amazing.

The picture above shows the introductory section spectators can read before the performance begins. After that the audience can follow the action on stage while reading brief descriptions automatically updating on the screen as the play progresses. Pages have black background and white characters, minimizing the annoying effect of bright screens in the semi-darkness of the playhouse.

See the Japan Times article on this service here.

 

Noh Charity Performance for Kumamoto

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Kanze and Kongo school Noh actors, as well as Kyogen actors will perform in a 2-part charity event as part of the Kumamoto earthquake relief effort.

Performances will take place on August 25th at the newly-built Rohm Theatre in Kyoto (Okazaki area). The first section (from 10:30) features the Noh TsunemasaHagoromo, the Kyogen Busu and the half-noh Kokaji. The second section (from 18:30) features the Noh Funa-BenkeiHagoromo, the Kyogen Bo-shibari and the half-noh Shari.

Tickets (1,500yen general admission) are available from June 1st. Each part requires a different ticket. Contact me if you are interested in purchasing a ticket.

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Next challenge: an important tsure role

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img_4850My teacher’s son Udaka Norishige is preparing to perform as shite in the play Kayoi Komachi, at the bimonthly training session his father organises. When my schedule permits (they usually do this in the morning) I join in a chorus member, but this time I will take the tsure companion of the shite role. In Kayoi Komachi this is a rather demanding role as the tsure (the ghost of the Heian period poetess Ono no Komachi) acts alone during the first half of the play, de-facto acting as a shite.

It will be challenging also because it is the first time I take on a female role in a full play. I will need to practice hard to train my voice to sing in a ‘feminine mode’, (though this kind of mode still sounds quite manly to the untrained ear).

 

Noh Reimagined in London

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A wonderful series of Noh events coming up in London!


Noh Reimagined – The Contemporary Art of Classical Japanese Theatre

Friday 13 and Saturday 14 May 2016, Kings Place, London

Art, Music, Dance & The Divine

Noh originated in the 14th century and has been performed continuously since, making it among the oldest unbroken performance traditions in the world. Noh’s aesthetic concepts, unique musical rhythms and tempos influenced many Western artists in the 20th century, including Benjamin Britten. This two-day festival explores the art of Noh, which continues to inspire many practitioners across diverse art forms.

King Place continue their collaboration with Akiko Yanagisawa of mu: arts in presenting some of the foremost Noh performers from Japan to the UK. These performers, all of whom are recognised as intangible cultural assets by the Japanese Government, will be joined by innovative British artists at the cutting edge of the UK’s vibrant interdisciplinary arts scene. The festival’s aim is to communicate the essence of classical Noh and explore how its distinctive aesthetic and musical textures have become valuable resources for the contemporary visual, musical and theatrical arts.

Yakult, Daiwa Anglo-Japan Foundation, Great Britain Sasakawa Foundation, The Japan Foundation, Arts Council England and Arts Council Tokyo generously support the Noh Reimagined Festival.

Overview of the two-day festival:

• Highlights from the popular classical Noh repertoires including Tenko, Takasago and Toru performed by pre-eminent Noh artists from Japan, such as Yoshimasa Kanze (main actor-dancer) and Yukihiro Isso (Nohkan flautist and accomplished improviser).

• ‘Evan Parker Meets Noh’ A ground-breaking collaborative improvisation with the renowned saxophonist Evan Parker and Noh musicians, combine for an evening of virtuoso improvisation.

• ‘Masking and Unmasking: Noh Theatre as a Strategy in Contemporary Art and Performance’ explores the place of Noh in contemporary visual arts and performance, starting with a screening of Turner Prize winner Simon Starling’s ‘Project for a Masquerade (Hiroshima)’. This is followed by three collaborative performances and a panel discussion featuring Ignacio Jarquin, Andrew G Marshall and Michael Finnissy, Ami Skånberg Dahlstedt and Palle Dahlstedt, as well as David Toop and Wiebke Leister exploring the psychological and aesthetic significance of voice and face-masks in Noh.

• Premieres of new works for Noh instruments by Andrew Thomas and Nicholas Morrish-Rarity, who have collaborated with Noh musicians on the Sound and Music Portfolio programme over the past eight months.

• ‘Noh Remixed’ Award-winning composer/turntablist Mariam Rezaei premieres OM, a live remix of traditional Noh stories exploring experimental improvisation in live performance, with electric guitarist Adam Denton and Noh performers.

• ‘Cross-cultural Collaboration and Contemporary Music’ A panel discussion with composers Nicola LeFanu, Ruth Fainlight and Sound and Music Portfolio composers chaired by Richard Whitelaw, Director of Programmes at Sound and Music.

• ‘Movement in Noh: The Dynamism of Stillness’ A workshop in which participants will learn to focus their inner energy through the highly stylised movements of Noh.

• ‘Music of Noh’ A workshop offering insight into the unique features of Noh music, which consists of chant and song accompanied by the Nohkan flute and three drums to create a distinctive sense of ‘ma’ (or ‘space’).

• ‘Knowing Noh’ An introductory talk by eminent Noh practitioner Professor Richard Emmert.

Full listings are available on the Kings Place website:

Dedicated project microsite: noh.muarts.org.uk

Press Contact: Akiko Yanagisawa (mu:arts) Email: akiko@muarts.org.uk Phone: 07782343632

Kanze Kiyokazu at Lincoln Center NY – July 2016

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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

Spring Keikokai 2016

Every February members of Udaka Michishige’s training group, the Kei’un-kai, including members of the International Noh Institute, gather in Kyoto for a kenkyu-kai, or ‘research meeting’. According to the traditional calendar this is the beginning of the spring (立春), hence the name of this meeting.

This year’s spring kenkyu-kai took place on Sunday 14th February and has been quite a full day! Over twenty of Udaka-sensei’s advanced students performed maibayashi and half-noh. As most of us also study either the kotsuzumi or the taiko, on top of chant and dance, this event is a chance to play for each other, and to sing in the jiutai chorus. Sensei’s two sons, Tatsushige and Norishige, also join in playing flute and kotsuzumi, while Sensei himself plays the otsuzumi beats on the hyoshiban practice wooden block. What a day for Tatsushige, who plays the flute from morning to evening!

I performed the maibayashi of the shuramono (warrior play), and played the taiko in the maibayashi from Seiobo and Kasuga-ryujin. Recently I have been doing fast paced plays – I wonder what I am going to study next!