Noh time like the present is a series of Noh-related performances taking place at LSO St. Luke in London 24 -25 February 2017, celebrating Kita-school actor Matsui Akira, one of the few professional Noh actors intensively participating in non-traditional performances. Matsui recently turned 70, just like Kanze-school shite actor Tsumura Reijirō, another pioneer of intercultural theatre emerging from the Noh world. My teacher, Kongō school actor Udaka Michishige, also turned 70 last year. A generation of Noh actors opening the doors of noh training to the ‘world outside tradition’.
All information and details are available on the Japan-UK Events Calendar website – here
“These two performances at LSO St Luke’s are a rare opportunity to experience the 650-year-old art of noh, and the genius of classical noh performer Akira Matsui, now age 70, in a bold collaboration with western opera, theatre, ballet, music and poetry. We are particularly pleased that this special programme will include ‘Rockaby’ by Samuel Beckett.
The project also includes a range of education activities ‘Getting to noh… more’, including a Seminar on Noh Theatre and Western Culture, at 6pm on 20 February 2017 at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama, and a series of lecture-demonstrations on Noh Maskmaking, in partnership with The Japan Foundation, from 17-24 February 2017 in Norwich, Oxford, Durham, London, Southend and Dublin.”
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 NohKurama 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.
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
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 kamishimo. It is an honour for me to partake in this recitation.
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.
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.
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 🙂
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!
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.
JPARC – Japanese Performing Arts Resource Center Lecture Series
ARC – Art Research Center, Ritsumeikan University
Symposium and Performance Demonstration
Interactive Interplay: Waki and Ai-Kyōgen Roles in Noh
Date November 17, 2015 15:00-20:00
Place： Ritsumeikan University, Kinugasa Campus. Art Research Center. Multipurpose room.。
This event consists of two parts. The afternoon symposium (in English with discussion in Japanese) will address the importance of waki and ai-kyōgen roles in late-Muromachi period noh with reference to building an interactive text of the play Funa Benkei for the JPARC database. In the evening demonstration (in Japanese), kyōgen and waki actors will discuss their roles in Funa Benkei, and perform portions of the play.
Presentation (in English): ” Important auxiliary characters – the case of Funa Benkei and late Muromachi noh plays” by Dr. Lim Beng Choo, National University of Singapore
Presentation (in English): “The sonic comic: How kyōgen actors create a scenic soundscape” by Dr. Jonah Salz, Ryukoku University
Presentation (in English): “Traditional Japanese Theater Websites and the Aims of the JPARC Website” by Dr. Diego Pellecchia
Round Table Discussion (in Japanese and English) “Purpose, Problems, and Perspectives on Creating Bilingual Interactive Texts, the case of Funa Benkei.” Discussants: Akama Ryō, Diego Pellecchia, Monica Bethe, others
Break (light refreshments will be provided)
Performance demonstration (in Japanese) 18:30-20:00
“Waki and Kyōgen Players in Late Medieval Noh, the case of Funa Benkei.”
On May 12th I’m going to sing in the chorus for the maibayashi (dance and music excerpt) from the Noh Awaji at the Ninomaru Castle Takigi Noh in Matsuyama (Ehime pref.). This time the shite is going to be Higaki Takafumi, while Udaka Michishige is going to lead the chorus.
It is the first time for me to study Awaji, a first category (god Noh) celebratory piece which is not performed as often as other plays from the same groups such as Takasago. In fact the utaibon libretto is only available in the kyūhon ‘old book’ format, with kuzushi-ji cursive characters and hentaigana alternative phonetic writing, making it rather hard to read even for Japanese native speakers. I have recently purchased a lot of these old books, which reminds me that I should soon or later write a post comparing new and old utaibon writing and notation style.
As for Awaji, it follows the typical first category structure: imperial officers are on their way to visit Awaji, thought to be the first island to be created when the godly couple Izanami and Izanagi stirred the primordial sea with a spear. The brine dropping from the spear hardened into islands, thus creating the Japanese archipelago. The officers meet an old man cultivating a rice field attached to a shrine and discuss with him the name Ni-no-miya shrine, an appellation that suggests the two gods Izanami and Izanagi, representing the actions of sowing and reaping. Quoting from ancient poems, the old man chants the fertility of the Japanese soil. Soon the old and mysterious man disappears, only to re-enter in the second half of the play as the male god Izanagi, dancing and bestowing long life and happiness to the land.