Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Noh on Stage: Walking With the Spirits

Two Noh performances were held in the Portland Japanese Garden on the evening of October 14th to celebrate the opening of the exhibition of Mirrors of the Mind: The Noh Masks of Ohtsuki Kokun which runs until December 3rd.  This event was also part of the year-long celebration of the opening of the Garden's Cultural Village in April.

Though it was initially planned to have an open air stage with the garden as a backdrop, weather required that the performance be moved indoors.

Roles for the second performance of the evening:
Shite (main) Actor: Tamoi Hiromichi
Chanting: Kawamura Haruhisa, Yoshinami Toshiaki, and Juge Chisato

Kawamura Haruhisa provided commentary and introductions throughout the event.  He began studying with Kanze School of Noh at the age of three and has been designated an Intangible Cultural Asset.  He currently performs and teaches at Kawamura Nohgakudo in Kyoto and teaches Noh history and culture at Kobe University and Kyoto City University of Art.

Tamoi Toshiaki began studying Noh at the age of three and has performed Noh throughout the world.  He teaches with the Hekito-kai (Noh study group) which he founded, as well as at Kyoto University.

Yoshinami Toshiaki  received the master teacher designation from Kanze Noh in 1992.  He currently teaches Noh at Asahi Culture Center in Kyoto.

Juge Chisato has studied Noh since he was six years old and has performed worldwide.

Opening - Chanting from Takasago 
From the program: This chant is from the legend of the twin pines of Sumiyoshi and Takasago, located across from each other on Osaka Bay, and personified by an aged couple. According to legend, the spirit of the Sumiyoshi Pine travels nightly to visit his wife, the Takasago Pine, in a bond which defies age and time. The twin pines are also symbolic of the two great poetic anthologies, the Manyoshu and the Kokinshu, and the prosperity of the land brought about by the observance of high moral and aesthetic principles exemplified in these anthologies.

Kawamura provided a brief lecture on the history of Noh.

Noh dates back to the 14th century, a time when singing a word gives it a soul.  Each mask in Noh is a god (kami).  In the role of Okina, for example, the actor will first bow to the Okina mask.  Then, as they don the mask, they become the god Okina.

Samurai shogun Yoshimitsu Ashikaga, who built Kinkakuji (the Golden Pavilion), was fond of Heian noble culture.  Upon learning Yoshimitsu would be attending Noh performances by the great Noh playwright Ze'ami and his father Kan'ami, Ze'ami changed the performance from the simpler style meant for the the general public to something more relatable to nobility.  Ze'ami later met with Yoshimitsu and from there was inspired to create deeper stories.

Izutsu (The Well Head)
From the program:  A traveling priest stops at Ariwara Temple where a beautiful woman appears offering water and flowers at the grave of the ancient poet Ariwara no Narihira.  She tells of the relationship of Narihira and the daughter of Ki no Aritsune, who was known as the "lady by the well," and finally reveals that she is, in fact, the spirit of that woman, mourning the loss of her husband.  She disappears, and after the priest prays for her, she reappears wearing the costume of Narihira, hoping to catch the reflection of his image in the waters of the well.  She dances, and then vanishes at dawn.  Narihira's wife wears the Wakaonna mask.

Rather than going to Buddhist paradise, Lady Izutsu waits after death for her husband.  She describes the poem he wrote for her, asking for her hand in marriage. "I'm finally taller than the well." he says to indicate his maturity.  She responds by saying "My hair is longer than my shoulder." and lifts it up to show that she too has grown and accepts his proposal.  Narihira had another woman on the side and would cross the mountain to see her.  One day, Narihira lingered nearby before heading over the mountain and overheard Lady Izutsu praying for his safe travel, though she likely suspected where he was going.  He was so overcome by her selflessness that he never went to see the other woman again.

The play concludes when the temple bell rings to indicate sunrise when the soul must disappear.

Kawamura provided a brief lecture on Noh masks and costumes.

The mask is called omote which means to amplify or bring forward. When the mask is donned, the actor's face and personality is covered and the spirit of the character is amplified.

Historically, orimono (woven fabric) was used for Noh costumes.  Modern costumes may feature nuihaku (gold or silver leaf) embroidery.

The broad-sleeved overcoat is called choken. If one sleeve is worn off, it can indicate the heart revealed as in a woman who has lost a child or lover.  The same piece can be worn as an overcoat, underwear, or a skirt.

Atsumori Excerpt
Kawamura introduced this play with an explanation of the history of the conflict between the Minamoto and Taira as well as a quick but detailed explanatory run-through of the excerpt that would be performed.

From the program:  This play is by Ze'ami Motokiyo which focuses on Taira no Atsumori, a young samurai who was killed in the Genpei War, and his killer, Kumagai Naozane.  Atsumori's death is portrayed tragically in the Heike Monogatari (Tale of the Heike), from which this and many other works stem.  Atsumori wears the Juroku mask.

See my review from a Noh performance in 2009 for a slightly more detailed explanation of Atsumori.

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