Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Japanese Noh Mask Carving and Noh Drama Performance at Seattle Asian Art Museum

On June 14th, Seattle Asian Art Museum hosted a Noh mask carving demonstration and performance by members of Chūden Yūgakukai, a Nagoya-based troupe belonging to the famous Kanze School of Noh.

Left to Right:  Shojo, Shishiguchi, Heida, Uba, Zo-onna, Waka-onna, Ko-omote, Atsumori, Kantan-otoko, Okina

Left to Right: Shojo, Shishiguchi, Heida

Two members of Chūden Yūgakukai demonstrated mask carving while answering questions from the audience.  The masks on display were also carved by these craftsmen and are relatively new.  

Some of the most priceless Noh masks are hundreds of years old and still worn on the stage today.  The masks are carved from hinoki (cypress) and are incredibly lightweight.  Real gold, which is resistant to deterioration, is used on the eyes for spirits like Shishiguchi and for certain warriors.  The eyeholes in the masks are quite small, leaving the actor with a limited range of vision.  Most Noh stages feature four large columns and a pinetree motif background and these large elements act as markers for the performer wearing the mask to stay within the bounds of the stage and to hit their marks. While Noh masks have remained largely unchanged throughout the history of the art form, you can recognize the earliest masks such as Okina by their hinged jaws, an element inspired by the Chinese masks of the time.

Following the mask carving demonstration, members of Chūden Yūgakukai performed excerpts from six Noh plays.  While Noh, which dates back to the 14th century, often utilizes masks and elaborate kimono to evoke a character and feeling, it is also performed without these properties. 

This was a wonderful performance and I hope Chūden Yūgakukai will return to Seattle for future performances.  Special thanks to Tatsuo Tomeoka of Charaku for organizing this event!

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