When there is No Dog

[EDITOR’S NOTE: Part of the continuing conversation surrounding Carrie Preston’s  Zahdi Dates and Poppies, premiering on March 30, 2016 at the Tsai Performance Center, Boston. Please consider providing your support by visiting the project’s funding page.]


Contributed by David Surtasky

The emotions I needed to explore in the play were already present in the images of burnt Zahdi date palms and poppies that would open in the sun’s warmth – and in all the resonances and permutations of those images that the exacting process of trying to write in the noh form had revealed. ~ Carrie Preston

After publishing Carrie’s recent post Finding the Dog in Noh, and Leaving it Alone, I got an email from David Crandall. He talked about the images from that post, in particular one that featured what appeared to be an overlay. I wrote back and mentioned that it wasn’t actually a digitally manipulated image, but rather a photo that I’d taken recently in the area around Kumagaya in Saitama Prefecture. I told David the story of the photo, why I felt there was a connection with Carrie’s narrative, and he encouraged me to share that story as well. So, for better or worse, I suppose I shall:

kitazawa_hidetaSomeone who’s become a good friend over the years is Kitazawa Hideta. He’s become an important artistic partner for TN since we rely on him for most of our masks. Mr. Kitazawa is an accomplished wood carver, and extremely knowledgeable in his craft. He embodies craftsmanship and artistry of the highest order in my opinion.

When I first met Mr. Kitazawa I had no Japanese language ability, but he was affable and open to conversation. He was pleasant to be around, and often had a broad smile. In speaking with him you could feel his positivity. That positivity has carried forward over the years as he’s taken on the challenge of the commissioned masks for Pine Barrens, Pagoda, Crazy Jane, Blue Moon Over Memphis, Oppenheimer and now most recently Zahdi Dates and Poppies.

Recently I had the opportunity to visit Tokyo after living for a few months in Hakodate, Hokkaido. I’d been in contact with Hideta, and he said that he wanted to show me some shrines and temples. Since temple carving runs in his family, I was very excited because I knew he was knowledgeable, and I was really looking forward to seeing such things with someone who could tell me more about all of it.

_DSC9166We met at the train station near Hideta’s house, and we went off to Saitama in his car heading to Menuma Shodenzan Kangiin Temple. Founded in 1179 and designated a National Treasure in 2012, the temple is quite interesting, and the grounds feature a rare triple gabled gate, as well as a recently restored and elaborately carved and painted hall. After touring the grounds, admiring the carvings and enjoying some shaved ice to fend off the broiling August heat, we met up with Mr. Kitazawa’s uncle, and went out to his house.

I met the family, and had some tea and sweets. The traditional house was cool and pleasant, and smelled of earth, wood and straw. We chatted for a bit about the various carvings in the sitting room, the black and white portrait photos of relatives on the wall, and then Kitazawa-san’s uncle asked me “Well, what is it that you want to see?” I replied in my best elementary-level Japanese; 「全ての物が見たいですよね。これを見せてください。よろしくお願いいたします」”Please show me everything.” And so, he did.

The gentleman (with the help of his granddaughter) proceeded to get out and display on the walls and on the floor his painted scrolls, ink drawings and designs. The Meiji era scrolls were painstaking and textured color renderings of temples and portable shrines. The designs on washi paper were 1:1 ink drawings of the intended carvings for various places. One in particular seemed quite interesting since it was an overlay of black, blue and red ink; a similar but slightly different design laid one on top of the other. Why is this so, I asked?

Kitazawa Hideta explained: this ink is the original design, this ink is what is necessary due to the grain of the wood, this ink is what was finally carved.

While trying to find appropriate images for Carrie’s entry, this recent experience came to my mind. How, with creative ideas, we often start in one place and end up in another, but that the underlying image is likely still present. The ideas we have can be altered once they’re first expressed by the exigencies of the medium that we’re working in. There may be different pressures or grains in the wood that lead us to change those initial thoughts, and when we come to the realization of performance for an audience we’ve come to a place of more or less final endeavor. This seems natural, and entirely human.

_DSC9104When an audience perceives a work, if we are skillful in our craft, they will not see the many lines; the black, the blue, the red. Rather, they will hopefully see the whole and accept the story as it is presented as being what it had always been meant to be from the very beginning. That the drawings may remain, endless rolls of washi stored in the chambers of our minds.

Poetry comes from intention. It forms in the mind, and gives way to words. Songs give music to the voice. Music compels dance from the body. All these things are derived from the heart. If we’ve done what we set out to do, it is the intention of the heart that we’ve laid bare.


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.
This entry was posted in English-language noh, Noh plays, zahdi dates and poppies and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to When there is No Dog

  1. Pingback: Hair of the Dog, Pt. 1 | Theatre Nohgaku Blog

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