The Japan Foundation
Performing Arts Network Japan
Presenter Interview
As the Yokohama Noh Theater ventures into the uncharted field of traditional arts production, attention focuses on its planning expertise
Futatsu no Dojoji (“Two Dojoji’s”)
(Apr. 2007)

Futatsu no Dojoji
Okinawan kumiodori “Shushinkaneiri”

Futatsu no Dojoji
Noh Dojoji Akagashira Nakanodan-kazubyoshi Kuzurenoden
Photo: Yoshiaki Kanda
Considering the fact that there is usually only one ”rehearsal“ where all the performers and crew get together to prepare for a normal Noh performance today, it was surely an unaccustomed work load for those who participated in this [”Sotoba Komachi as Hideyoshi Saw It“] production, wasn’t it? What’s more, performing at the speed of Noh as it was performed 400 years ago meant that the performers would have to completely break out of the [slower] tempo that they have trained themselves to perform with in normal contemporary productions of new or revived Noh plays.
    I’m sure it was quite a burden for them, because everything from the rhythm of the recitation and music to the intonation of the verses had to be changed. There were some who objected that their art is one of training themselves in ”forms“ through repetition and performing at the faster tempo would be a process of undoing what they have worked hard to train their bodies to do.

I believe this was a production that had a big impact on both the performers and the audience and brought together all of the know-how that the Yokohama Noh Theater has acquired.
    I feel that this production was made possible because of all the things we had experimented with until that time. After the Yokohama performances there were plans for it to also be performed at the 400-year-old Noh stage at Nishi-Honganji temple in Kyoto, but unfortunately that plan was never actually realized.

Still, it was revolutionary in the way it brought the results of academic research to the stage, wasn’t it?
    Yes, it was. I believe it is safe to say that serious research of Noh began after WWII with researchers like Akira Omote and Mario Yokomichi at the forefront. Until now, however, the research was mainly restricted to its study from the standpoint of Japanese literature but not comprehensively from the perspective of Noh as a performance art. Although there had been research in specific areas such as re-creating the way the narratives were recited in Zeami’s day, there hadn’t been attempts to re-create it comprehensively as a 3-dimensional performance art. I feel that one of the roles of producing in the field of Noh can be to undertake experimental productions like this.

What is important for realizing Noh productions of this type?
    You have to have a solid concept, and then you need a network of people to help you realize it, I believe. First of all a good concept is essential and then we think about who the right performers will be and which specialists you should consult with. In other words, it is a combination of the right elements.

Due to the established presence of distinct schools and styles in the traditional Japanese performing arts that are mainly handed down through certain families, it would seem like quite a difficult thing to cross those divisions and get performers of different schools and families to perform together in the same production.
    It is meaningless if crossing over the existing boundaries of school and style is your only aim. You have to have a clear reason why two performers of different schools still make the best combination for a given production.
    Noh performers already have their hands full with the task of perfecting their art within the existing plays in the existing styles, and working up a new play on top of that takes a lot of additional effort. So, you have to be able to give them a very good explanation with sound reasoning why doing a new production is meaningful and what it will contribute to Noh and Kyogen. To convince the performers of that importance you need a clear concept that they will appreciate, and it is also important that it be one that the audience will understand, too.
    The production ”Buke no Kyogen, Choshu no Kyogen“ (Kyogen of the Samurai Class, Kyogen of the Townspeople) for which we recently received the Excellence Award of the Agency of Cultural Affairs Arts Festival, was designed to show the audience the differences between the Kyogen of two families of the Okura school of Kyogen, the Yamamoto family of Tokyo and the Shigeyama family of Kyoto. And it was very gratifying for us when we received words of thanks from both Yamamoto Tojiro sensei (master) and Shigeyama Sennojo sensei afterwards for planning that production. That kind of expression of gratitude from the performers is extremely encouraging for us as producers.

But isn’t the number of people in the world of classical arts who appreciate these kinds of new productions rather limited?
    Perhaps, but even if certain productions are successful, it is not good for us to continue to plan productions for the same group of performers. If we do that, our network will not continue to expand, and it won’t lead to new discoveries. Certainly there are performers who we feel safe using, but we can’t let ourselves fall into easy patterns like that. So, we are always aware to keep attempting new projects.

Twelve years have passed now since the Yokohama Noh Theater opened. Do you feel that the concept of producing like you have done is catching on in the world of Noh?
    I don’t think we are the sole influence in this trend, but it does seem to me that there is a growing appreciation of the need for original producing efforts. Producers should of course always be trying to bring high quality, interesting productions to the stage, but I believe that the essence of producing is getting as many people from the general public to come see the performances (in other words how you show Noh to the general audience). Performers always comment about how large (full) the audiences are at the Yokohama Noh Theater, and I believe that it is essential to keep coming up with productions that are successful commercially in that way.

At the Yokohama Noh Theater you also actively present other traditional arts and folk arts. In 2007 you did a production called ”Two Dojoji’s“ that brought to the stage the Noh classic Dojoji and an Okinawan kumiodori (traditional ethnic group dance) adaptation of the same play called Shushinkaneiri.
    I believe that Japan is a country with a rich tradition of different arts not seen in other countries. There are highly sophisticated performing arts and also a great diversity of regional folk arts that have been preserved at a very high level. And I don’t think the Japanese people are sufficiently aware of this wonderful cultural wealth. All of them are highly unique. And one of these traditions is the kumiodori dance theater of Okinawa.
    In the past, when Okinawa was the independent Ryukyu Kingdom (1429-1879) that shared political relations with both Japan and China, and unique culture flowered as a result. Kumiodori is the form of dance theater that developed as entertainment for emissaries from China called Sakuhoshi visiting the Okinawan royal court at Shuri-jo castle. It is said that kumiodori was established in 1719 by the royal magistrate of dance, known as the Tamagusuku chokun, combining elements influenced by Noh and Kabuki. In the past it was performed on a stage with a hashigakari (entrance bridge) similar to a Noh stage, but other details of the art were lost with the fall of the Ryukyu Kingdom and the devastation of the Second World War.
    For that production we asked the Noh performer Umewaka Rokuro (now Umewaka Gensho to direct Shushinkaneiri with the aim of searching for what the play was probably like when it was performed on a Noh-like stage with a hashigakari and with hopes that there would be new discoveries within the kumiodori genre by approaching through the filter of Noh.
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