JAPAN’S TRADITIONAL PERFORMING ARTS – NOH
Hey, it’s Hana. In my first post I shared my little research on Kabuki. Today, I will be posting about another form of Japanese theatre called Noh.
(A Noh performance © www.japanesesymbolsofpresence.com)
Noh is a form of theatre that has been performed since the 14th century and it involves dance, music and drama. The word ‘Noh’ is derived from the Sino-Japanese word ‘No’ which means skill or talent. Noh performers use their body and visual appearances (i.e costumes) to suggest the essence of the story and not the full enactment, as it is assumed that Japanese audiences know the story’s plot very well. The language used is poetic, the movement is slow, costumes rich and heavy and tone is monotonous.
(Noh stage © www.keioplaza.com)
Noh performances take place on a square stage with a roof that is supported by pillars. All its sides are open except the back, which has a wall with a painted image of a pine tree. A narrow bridge is connected to the stage and serves as an entrance for actors. Just like the bridge in a Kabuki performance, this bridge also has a symbolic meaning. While the hanamichi bridge in Kabuki is literally a path that connects two spaces in a single world, the hashigakari in Noh symbolizes the mythic nature of Noh plays in which the supernatural frequently appear.
There are 5 roles in any Noh performance and all are played by male performers. There’s Shite – the leading character, Waki – the supporting actor, Hayashi – the musicians, Jiutai – the chorus, Koken – stage attendants who assist in handing over of the props to the performers.
A key feature of a Noh performance is the mask that is worn by the shite. It gives the audience an idea of what character is being portrayed. The masks are carved from blocks of Japanese cypress. Performers wear costumes of multiple layers and textures to create an elegant effect as well as a bulky, massive figure. The props used will enhance their expressions.
For every Noh performance, there are intervals where comedy pieces about everyday life are performed. These are called Kyogen. Most kyogen is about 15-20 minutes long and involves two or three actors.
I have included a video below which is an excerpt of a Noh performance by Kyoto-based Kashu-juku Noh Theater. Enjoy!