Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Healing in Noh Performance and Lecture

On Sunday, March 24th, Soju Kai Seattle presented Healing in Noh at Nagomi Tea House.  

Soju Kai was founded in 1975 by Yoshio and Yukie Negishi, professional performers of the Kanze school. Kumiko Negishi-Lawrence and Kenneth Lawrence have inherited this title and present performances, demonstrations, and lectures in the U.S. as Soju Kai Seattle.

Healing in Noh began with a chant of the song, Tsurukame by Kumiko.  

Photo by Heather Jackson

Next, Kenneth provided a lecture on the history, movement, aesthetics, and stage properties of Noh as demonstrated by Kumiko.

Photo by Heather Jackson

Noh is the creation of Kan'ami (1333-1385) and his son, Ze'ami (1363-1443), incorporating elements of Kusemai, Daidengaku, and Sarugaku into dramatic plays for the Samurai class.

Noh is masked dance drama with plays that follow this order throughout a day's performance:
  1. God Plays
  2. Warrior Plays
  3. Women/Wig Plays
  4. Miscellaneous Plays
  5. Superhuman Plays
A performance may consist of only two to three plays with Kyogen (comic) interludes, but they will always occur in the same order.

Noh performers lean forward so there is a constant sense of movement and energy, even in moments of stillness.  Yugen, the sublime experience for Noh, is brought about with asymmetry, opposites, and jo ha kyu (the slow-fast-stop movement of the performance).  Stomping is another important element in Noh dance.  Large pots are situated under the traditional Noh stage to amplify the stomping sound.

Photo by Heather Jackson

As a special treat, three Noh masks were displayed:  Onna-men (woman), Okina (old man), and Shojo (drunken sprite).  I believe all were carved by Kumiko's mother, Yukie Negishi.  While many museums and galleries have authentic Noh masks on display, the most valuable masks are still in use on the Noh stage.

Photo by Heather Jackson

For the final portion of the lecture we learned about the famous Noh drama, Atsumori, a story of healing through forgiveness.  Below is a summary of the drama from my review of a Noh performance in 2009.

The Noh drama, Atsumori, is taken from the Heike Monogatari (The Tale of the Heike). In the 12th century, two clans, Genji and Heike, fought for control of Japan. The Noh drama, Atsumori, tells the story of the Heike General, Kumagai, who came across the young noble, Atsumori, on the Ichi no tani beach. The Genji warriors had been sorely beaten and the surviving warriors were fleeing on boats. Atsumori had not been able reach the departing boats and was forced to turn and fight. Kumagai easily overpowered Atsumori, but when he realized he was fighting a 17-year old who reminded him very much of his own son of the same age, he was reluctant to strike the final blow. Unfortunately, Kumagai knew his men were closing in and would kill the boy themselves with less pity, so he beheaded Atsumori, himself. Shortly later, Kumagai was informed of Atsumori’s identity and realized the young noble was most likely the source of the flute music he had heard coming from the Heike camp the evening before the battle. Eventually, his guilt drove Kumagai to give up his warrior life and take on the mantle of a priest and the name Rensei, who spends his remaining years praying for Atsumori’s soul. 

During a pilgrimage, Rensei returns to the shores of Ichi no tani where he comes across the spirit of Atsumori. Atsumori’s vengeance is great and he intends to strike down Rensei but, when he realizes that over all this time Rensei has been praying for his soul, he forgives him and is finally able to move on. 

There are more opportunities to learn about Noh in the coming months!
Beginning in March, Kenneth Lawrence has a monthly column in The North American Post titled "Tales from the Noh" featuring artwork by Kumiko Lawrence.  This month's column is a retelling of Atsumori.

In June, there will be a presentation featuring a Kanze Noh performer from Japan.  This is certainly something to look forward to!  

Thank you to Kumiko and Kenneth for sharing their knowledge and art!

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