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Yoshihiro Kurita
Yoshihiro Kurita
Made directing debut with a production of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. Formed "AUN" Theater Company with Kotaro Yoshida in 1997. Presently associate director of the Niigata City Performing Arts Center — Ryutopia. Main works (productions) include Pieta, Taisho Yotsuya Kaidan, Orphans, Richard III, Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Hamlet, The Count of Monte Cristo, "Niigata Community Musical Fadet," "Musical Sans Famille," The The Cripple of Inishmaan, "Theater Company 'Tobiraza' 20th anniversary production of Fortinbras" etc.
Kensuke Yokouchi
Kensuke Yokouchi
Born 1961, director, playwright, representative of Theater company "Tobiraza"
Began working in theater at Atsugi High School in Kanagawa Pref. and received Excellence Award in a drama contest for his debut performance in Sanshouo Dazo!. Formed the company "Zennin Kaigi" in 1982 while a student at Waseda University and proceeded to present productions of plays characterized by strong narrative and unique characters. Changed the company name to "Tobiraza" with the specific aim of committing to the company system. Pursued career as a commercial playwright creating plays in a style described as "easy to watch, fun and easy to understand" and supplied works to groups like the Super Kabuki theater of Ennosuke Ichikawa and other commercial theaters. Also active as a television personality and instructor of theater workshops. Winner of the Kishida Kunio Drama Award for The King of La Mancha's New Clothes. Became the youngest ever winner of the Otani Takejiro Award for the Super Kabuki play Shin Sangokushi.

King Lear
Niigata City Performing Arts Center production
Ryutopia Noh Theater Shakespeare Series
King Lear
© Niigata City Performing Arts Center

Written by W. Shakespeare
Translation: Kazuko Matsuoka
Dramaturge, Director: Yoshiihiro Kurita
Music: Akira Miyagawa
Costume: Shingo Tokihiro
Stylist: Junko Agatsuma
Producer: Hiroshi Sasabe
Cast: Kayoko Shiraishi, etc.
Production: Ryutopia (Niigata City Performing Arts Center)
Dec. 2004 Niigata premiere at Ryutopia Noh Theater
Dec. 2004 Tokyo performance at Umewaka Nohgaku Gakuin Kaikan Theater
Jan. 2005 Osaka performance at Otsuki Noh Theater
Jan. 2005 Nagoya performance at Nagoya Noh Theater
Macbeth
Niigata City Performing Arts Center production
Ryutopia Noh Theater Shakespeare Series
Macbeth
© Niigata City Performing Arts Center

Written by W. Shakespeare
Translation: Kazuko Matsuoka
Dramaturge, Director, Choreographer: Yoshiihiro Kurita
Music: Akira Miyagawa
Producer: Hiroshi Sasabe
Production: Ryutopia (Niigata City Performing Arts Center)
May 2004 Niigata premiere at Ryutopia Noh Theater
June 2004 Tokyo performance at Tessenkai Nohgaku Kenshujo

pdf
an overview
Artist Interview Artist Interview
2005.3.16
play
A meeting of Eastern and Western classicsThe Noh-staged Shakespeare of Yoshihiro Kurita  
 
The "Ryutopia Noh Theater Shakespeare Series" produced by Niigata City Performing Arts Center is an ambitious set of works that explores new potential in the classical repertoire by bringing Shakespeare's plays to the traditional Japanese Noh stage with its unique six-meter square configuration. The dramaturge and director who adapted the Shakespeare and staged these productions is Yoshihiro Kurita, an artist who made a name for himself in traditional Japanese Buyo dance and the Kabuki theater of Ennosuke Ichikawa before moving into the field of contemporary theater. In this month's Artist Interview, Kurita talks with a fellow artist involved in Ennosuke Kabuki, Kensuke Yokouchi, about the things he discovered by bringing Shakespeare to the Noh stage.
(Interviewer: the playwright and director Kensuke Yokouchi)


Yokouchi: What initially got you involved in bringing Shakespeare to the Noh theater?

Kurita: It was quite simple, really. There just happened to be a Noh theater facility at the Niigata City Performing Arts Center where I have been associate director for the past six years. (laughs)

Yokouchi: Because it was right there and empty? (laughs)

Kurita: That's right. (laughs) Actually, there had been a plan in the works earlier to stage a production of Macbeth, and there just happened to be this Noh theater. Niigata is a region that has a long association with Noh. Zeami [the father of Noh] was exiled to the Niigata island of Sado and there are still over thirty Noh stages remaining on the island today. "Takigi Noh" [outdoor Noh performance] is also popular and it has long been a mark of one's status as a Noh performer to have performed in Niigata. That is why a Noh theater was built into the Niigata City Performing Arts Center in the first place, and the proximity of this theater was an important factor in the decision to do these Shakespeare productions in it.

Yokouchi: Even if the Noh theater wasn't the origin of the plan for these productions, the fact that you were able to use it is really something. That is surely one of the advantages of being in Niigata. There are not many places where you can get access to a Noh theater like that. Back in the 1970s there were precedents with people like Shogo Ota and Tadashi Suzuki staging avant-garde plays in Noh theaters, but to bring Shakespeare to the Noh stage like you have done this time certainly couldn't be done without some significant changes in the conceptual approach.

Kurita: The idea of trying to stage the Western classics of Shakespeare in the Noh theater space where your stage area consists only of a six-meter square main stage area defined by the four pillars and the entrance "bridge" (hashigakari) walkway certainly involves enough limitations to make most people say, "Hey, wait a minute. Isn't that going too far?" But that wasn't how I reacted. Rather, I thought of it as an interesting concept from the beginning.
I had done Shakespeare and other foreign plays in translation before, and I think I had begun to feel that there was a limit to what could be done. I guess I had come to feel a basic contradiction in the act of performing a play from a translated script that was not written originally in your native language. Even if you got the actors to use lines that had a natural sense of daily life, the historical background would still be missing and that in itself is enough to undermine the reality and make a production hopeless.
But, with Shakespeare's plays there is a sense of un-reality or other-worldliness to the words to begin with, and that can make it all more poetic, musical and fanciful. You also have jesters and ghosts and nymphs and witches making appearances, so that it is in effect a world of the imagination from the outset.
As for the Noh theater, it is a stage where traditionally almost no decoration is allowed. It is what you could call a "naked theater" where all you have basically is words as your tools to try to create a world of image. In other words, the Noh theater is a space of image, and I think that fits perfectly with Shakespeare. My hope was that this marriage of Shakespeare's plays with the Noh theater would produce a new mixed breed of original Shakespeare that could not be experienced in Britain or anywhere else in Japan, just on our stage.
The originality I have in mind is not one based on the miss-match between Shakespeare and the Noh theater space. What I wanted to do was not something in the vein of putting Western consommé soup in a Japanese lacquer bowl but to use the same materials and create a unique new soup that is neither Japanese miso nor Western consommé.

Yokouchi: Is it really true that you can't decorate the Noh stage with any stage art at all? For example, it would seem there might be cases where you would want to drive in a few nails for a set.

Kurita: It is forbidden. The basic rule is that no decoration of the Noh theater is allowed. With our production of King Lear this time we premiered in Niigata and then toured Japan starting at the Umewaka Noh Gakuin Kaikan Theater in Tokyo. In the process we found that different Noh theaters had different rules. At some, we were told you can't stride the entrance bridge railing. For this King Lear production we had adopted the suggestion of the actress Kayoko Shiraishi that we have the king come on stage from a number of different directions during the course of the play, but we were not able to work this device in freely because of Noh theater rules like one forbidding stage entrances from the audience side. It is a fact that use of Noh theaters by non-Noh productions like ours is generally frowned upon and subjected to strict requirements.

Yokouchi: Most Japanese today are far more likely to have seen a Broadway musical than a Noh play, and for most of us Noh is a more "foreign" art than Western theater. Did you undertake any particular study or training in Noh/Kyogen in preparation for these Shakespeare productions?

Kurita: No. But since the kabuki dance that I was a performer of is based in Noh originally, I had some knowledge of the basic rules and history of Noh. I watched a few videos of performances and such, and it doesn't take much study to realize that there are rules of performance that have been handed down over the centuries. But, if you start obsessing about elements of the Noh style like the one-breath pause and the pattern for taking a single step, you will become so restricted that you can't do anything really. On the other hand, there are advantages from not having excessive knowledge about the tradition; there are new thing that can be born from a fresh approach. Those were the things I wanted to allow to develop. Of course, there are cases where you can be laughed at for what you don't know, but I was interested in exploring new possibilities and adaptations that could be possible in the working space of the Noh theater.

Yokouchi: To tell you the truth, I thought that perhaps you had gone off on a retreat and spent a year or so in training like a monk before beginning these productions. (laughs)

Kurita: I was once asked by someone, "Kurita, how much do you really know about the traditional Japanese style (known as "Wa"). At the time I answered that I didn't know much. But that question also prompted me to consider again what the essence of Japanese Wa is and how much we really need to know about it or be concerned with it. In other words, what should a style "of the Japanese and for the Japanese" be, and how much should we focus on that idea to begin with.

Yokouchi: You are one who applied himself seriously to the arts of Japanese Buyo (traditional dance) and Kabuki before coming to contemporary theater. So, even if you haven't done any specific study of Noh, you need to show people that you are not just some director with no knowledge of the traditional arts who is jumping onto the Noh stage like a punk rocker and doing his thing. Otherwise you are likely to be misunderstood. For example, anyone might know the concept of what the Noh stage and its entrance bridge are for, but you have an intimate physical knowledge of what these places are and what should take place there. You bring to the stage your experience from your years of training in Ennosuke's Kabuki and with the main branch of the Fujima school of traditional Buyo dance. Watching these Shakespeare productions I got a strong sense of that experience at work.

Kurita: It is true that I know clearly the difference between the shosa (the steps and movements of Kabuki and Noh actors) of Buyo and those of Noh, and I know the difference between Noh and Kyogen. There is the fact that my grandmother was a Buyo artist, but even more important is the four years of intensive training I spent as an apprentice of the main branch of the Fujima school of Buyo. There I had a chance to get to know the Kabuki actors who came to train with us, and I also saw how hard the head artists struggle to bring a new work into the repertoire. Looking back I realize that I have actually spent 20 years in the world of Wa, so I thought that if there was anyone who could use the Noh stage for new theater I might be one of the qualified ones. And since I had studied so long under Murasaki Fujima and Ennosuke Ichikawa, I couldn't really be likened to a punk rocker. (laughs)
 
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