Thursday, October 9, 2014

NOH in Seattle

by aleks
9/8/14 - Blood moon over Seattle

Last week I saw a NOH performance (ACT Theater) for the first time in my life and was floored, totally, by its beauty and simple execution.

About a year ago Keiko posted about the NOH theatre coming to Pacific Northwest for a rare appearance, and she explained that it is Japanese opera-like musical form, with a very long, dating to medieval times, tradition. I was highly interested, but, alas, the tickets for their limited performances sold out fast, and I lost one in a lifetime opportunity to see it, or so I thought.

What I didn't know was that when Munenori Takeda and his Noh troupe were here in 2013, he was approached by  Seattle's composer Garrett Fisher and the two of them agreed to collaborate on a musical project together.


9/8/14 - Blood moon over Seattle

Only a year later, the Noh theatre was back: not only with a traditional telling of a love story from Japan's epic The Tale of the Heike, titled Tomoe, but also with a Noh-inspired modern opera Yoshinaka,  which was the fruit of the cross-cultural collaboration between the two musicians, communicating across the oceans via flickering computer screens and through several back and forth translations.

Tomoe story is about a woman warrior of the 12 century famed for her skill in battle, and the traditional Noh performance is set after her death and tells of Tomoe's ghost's resentment toward her lord, general Yoshinaka, for refusing her to remain with him on the battlefield, where subsequently he lost his life.

The Act Theater had the Noh actors dancing on their small stage in traditional costumes and masks, and chanting the slow drama in poetic Japanese language with the English supra-titles. To my surprise, I found the tale very easy to follow and appreciate, extremely moving and breathtakingly beautiful; my surprise was probably steaming from anxiety that the culture of medieval Japan is really far off from my original european roots, therefore perhaps hard to understand + I had no prior Noh exposure.

Munenori Takeda,
picture from Garrett Fisher website

After the intermission we were treated to Yoshinaka, a fusion of Noh and modern American opera: an interesting music ensemble (including Taiko drums and Indian pump harmonium),  dance, beautiful singing and lights.  I couldn't tell in what language they were singing (opera often does it to me, and there were NO supra-titles for that part), but it was fascinating and hauntingly beautiful.

In this telling of the story both Tomoe and Yoshinaka were on the stage, also a Poet made it to it (Matsuo Basho, who in real life  asked his pupils to burry him in the same temple in Ootsu, where the gravestones for Tomoe and Yoshinaka are), and Munenori Takeda was now playing the goddess Shokannon who unites and liberates the once separated spirits of the two warriors.  I'm not ashamed to say that the opera's ending had me in tears of joy.

For some reason I can't embed it, but here is a link to a short interview (with English subtitles)  with Noh actor Munenori Takeda in Bainbridge Island, WA: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6RLGA-VhQ5w

Here is link to Beauty of Noh Seattle website for Tomoe and Yoshinaka - it has explanation about Noh and tells about the collaboration between Takeda and Fisher.

Link to an excellent Seattle Times article by Misha Berson Famed Japanese actor embraces Noh and the new...

Link to an article on Medieval Japan: An Introductory Essay by Ethan Segal, Michigan State University - it includes a mention of the Tale of the Heike and the times it was written...

And here a link to a bilingual book I just bought, titled Noh, by Matsuo Takahasi - it has 30 Noh masterpieces + photographs(!) - a great  introductory book to the world of Noh.

Since no pictures were allowed in the theatre I'm offering the blood moon over Seattle pics from last nigh (mere 12 hours after the eclipse the previous night).


• • • • • 
Reminder: This Sunday, October 12, Maple Viewing - all day (our star maples will be named and labeled!);  activities 11am-3pm
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