Back in the Jiutaiza 地謡

Contributed by David Surtasky.

There’s a certain comfort that I associate with sitting in the jiutaiza. Each year when I’ve had the opportunity to be a participant in the annual Noh Training Project, the first activity of the first day is to sing through Yuya with very little pre-amble.

For me, it’s become like slipping into a warm bath. “Tera wa katsura no hashi-bashi ra” the song goes. It rolls over me and envelopes me and reminds me of why I wanted to study noh in the first place; order out of chaos and back to chaos again.  This year, along with the usual knowledge gained at Noh Training Project, we’ll perform a full work: Atsumori by Zeami.

There’s probably a tendency for some of us as westerners to heap a lot of mystery, solemnity and gravitas to an art like noh. After all, it’s survived since the 1400’s and despite changes over the years is still fairly intact. Its easy then to overlook or forget that at its heart it is meant to bring entertainment and joy to the audience – the audience as vital participant in a performance process which can only happen once in a lifetime.

That’s whats special. Truly special. Once in a lifetime. Only one performance with this actor, with these musicians, with this audience and on this stage.  These allies in performance. These allies in our lives.

Taira no Atsumori (平 敦盛.)  We’ll be permitted to tell the tale of a young man who lived and died, another human like us with fears, hopes, blood and dreams. That his death on a beach at Ichinotani on March 18, 1184 should still be remembered and cherished and acted out in a way that we might all be given the chance to think for just a moment about duty, compassion and forgiveness – this is also special.

During the course of the last week we’ve sung through the play daily and blocked the actor’s movement.  We’ve reviewed the utai-bon and tried to be aware of our pitch  and cadence. All of this leads to a single instance as actors or musicians that will cause us to confront not only the audience, but ourselves. Our own strengths and weaknesses, our failures and success.

We’ll stand on the stage looking out into the darkness and again be on Suma Bay, the sound of a grasscutter’s flute adrift on the air and the spirits of the dead brought back to life to speak with us and fill us with their attachments and their release. That is special too.

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About Theatre Nohgaku

Noh, one of the oldest continuing stage arts, combines highly stylized dance, chant, music, mask and costume with intense inner concentration and physical discipline, creating a uniquely powerful theatrical experience. Theatre Nohgaku’s mission is to share noh’s beauty and power with English speaking audiences and performers. We have found that this traditional form retains its dramatic effectiveness in languages other than Japanese. We believe noh techniques hold a powerful means of expression in the context of contemporary English language theatre.
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