Contributed by Kristin Jackson
I play the part of the Shite-tsure, a grasscutter and companion to the Mae-Shite played by Morit Gaifman in the female cast of Atsumori. I am honored to have been entrusted with this part in my third year at NTP. Kevin Salfen (my counterpart in the male cast) has eloquently described the significance of this role in a previous post. Although it is a small role, it is particularly challenging for me.
I am a dancer by profession and have rarely had the chance to use my voice until I began studying Noh theater in 1996. The use of the voice was always of interest to me, however, and this performance has provided a greater opportunity to expand my “instrument.” The strength and control required to sing the chants reminds me of the discipline and rigor that dance training demands. Although simplistic and obvious, I think of dance as a stylized elaboration of “walking,” which is a rhythmic transference of weight from one leg to another. It is how one does it that can make it compelling and exciting, however. The suriashi in Noh certainly creates this excitement in the various kata, but the stillness before and after is equally compelling.
I am still trying to discover how to find this sense of control and simplicity with my voice, especially in a foreign language. I was particularly inspired to hear sensei Matsui Akira say that the best way to sing Noh is to sing it “straight” and let the melody and words reveal the “story” and “feeling.” I believe that the same holds true with movement. The body (like the voice) is also telling a story in time and space. It can be told literally or more abstractly (although the modern dance choreographer, Merce Cunningham, stated that abstract dance did not exist. He believed that since dance was performed by human beings, these dances were always invested with the dancers’ “inner lives.”) Greater depth is revealed, therefore, as the body strives to find the simplest and most direct path as it moves through space. This, of course, requires years of experience and training.
My wish is that this small role as Shite-tsure can lead me to this deeper understanding, so I may achieve greater clarity and strength in my singing – even though I don’t have the luxury of another lifetime to refine it! I am deeply honored nonetheless to have this opportunity and look forward to performing with this very talented group of actors, musicians and dancers this weekend.