Thursday, April 25, 2013

Noh Workshop @ HUB Kyoto, where things appear and disappear

"Is it comfortable? Good, it shouldn't be!"
Noh means skill, noh means talent.humorous Dr. Diego Pellecchia reminded us of an often overlooked definition- possibility! Last Sunday, Diego led a workshop at  Kyohakuin, the venue for the HUB Kyoto initiative to bring change makers together in one place. Indeed, in a gorgeous venue with such a rich history, the possibilites truely are endless.

Originally the residence of a Nanga (Chinese literati style) painter in the Meiji era, HUB founding member Lucinda Cowing explained that following the Second World War, Kyohakuin became a finishing school for girls. Here, they were trained in the traditional arts, including tea ceremony and calligraphy, but also Noh theatre. Hence it is believed that the recently-restored Noh stage was built during this period.

Diego started the session by describing how he first began exploring his possibilities with Noh when he met Monique Arnaud in his home of Italy in 2006. After taking Noh classes from her there, he decided to pursue a PhD focusing on the reception of Noh theatre in Europe at the Royal Holloway University of London,  Drama, and Theatre Department.

Currently he is a student of Kongo school of Noh at the International Noh Institute in Kyoto. He also is a researcher at Ritsumeikan University and gives Noh workshops internationally. This workshop was his first in Japan.

For some of the participants, it was their first experience with Noh.  Others like former dancer Julien de Vries, used to watch Noh every Sunday at midnight on NHK. Another participant/observer was photographer Stéphane Barbery who took some stunning photos of the workshop that are available here.

Before moving on to Noh chanting and Noh movements, Diego explained how Noh represents the potential for things to happen. Noh starts with an empty stage. Things appear- the music, the masks, the costumes, the dances, the chants. When the performance is over- they disappear. Diego reminded the workshop participants to keep this in mind as they tested themselves at becoming one with the Noh chanting and movements.

"Noh is like a mirror- it is honest, it reflects."
The workshop focused on a shimai, a self-contained unit of a full Noh performance, entitled Oi Matsu, the Ancient Pine.  Oimatsu is the first shimai that Diego ever learned. It depicts how the protagonist Sugawara Michizane, after being expelled to Chikuzen, Kyushu from Kyoto, would long for days of old.  He reminisces on the plum and ancient pine trees that used to adorn his courtyard in the capital when the next day they appear to him in his Kyushu residence.  Click here for a synopsis of the entire play.

According to the Samurai Archives:
Oimatsu, literally "old pine tree," is an auspicious Noh play depicting, symbolically, an old pine tree. In this play, as throughout Noh and other theatrical and artistic traditions, the pine represents longevity and strength, especially through difficulties, as the pine is evergreen through the winter.
The participants would become the traveling ancient pine tree.

After leading the participants through the chants for the shimai, Diego explained how the performers, no matter what their size, would form a strong skeleton for the large and heavy Noh costumes that they would wear should they perform. The masks would block a large part of their vision— it's normal to be restricted to one eyehole, and not be able to see one's toes —they  so Noh performers must know the stage like the back of their hand. This also is why Noh performers seem to move as if they are sliding across the stage. Diego guided the workshop participants through the movements in their new skeletons.

"Focus on reproducing a beautiful shaper. You are now an old pine visiting from Tokyo to Kyushu."
All of the participants, experiencing Noh as performers for the first time, took a while to feel comfortable with the movements and chanting, which although steming back from 650 years ago, were very new to them.  It is no wonder that Noh performances take years of dedicated training to perfect the simple yet very technical movements.

Diego ended the workshop saying, " When you see a Noh performance, I am sure that you will think of it differently."
For those who missed this workshop, there will be more to come and Diego will be appearing for the first time as the shite lead role in a full production of a Noh play at the bi-annual International Noh Institute performance on June 29th, 2013. 

-Posted by Jen Teeter

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