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The Noh Theater and its Gestures

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1 The Noh Theater and its Gestures
Guerino Mazzola U & ETH Zürich Internet Institute for Music Science

2 The Noh Theater—Principles and Perspectives
Kunio Komparu The Noh Theater—Principles and Perspectives Weatherhill/Tankosha, Tokyo & New York 1983

3 Muromachi period Nohgaku = Noh + Kyogen = accomplished entertainment Vocal music = utai Instrumental music = hayashi (1 flute + 3 drums) Acting technique = kata (dance poses + action) Dance elements = mai (dance + utai + hayashi) Fine arts, crafts = masks, robes, instruments Architecture = Noh stage Time = mode of production Space = unified space (= stage + public)

4 Art of time-space continuum,
Art of time-space continuum, perfection —> stylization/formalization Comparable to avant-garde music including improvisation and chance Utai-bon (= chant book) contains script, score, rules for performance => conductor superfluous Architectural space concept is - modular - universal/multi-purpose Negative space = ma = stillness/emptyness before and after performance Positive space = stage properties and dramatic activities These spaces are connected by time, no curtain!

5 Types of time and space:
Condensed time Slippage of time Vanishing time Reversed time Split time Shift of space Oscillating space Floating space Expanding and contracting space Space that brings the audience „onstage“

6 Noh = experience, responsibility, not appreciation!
Like tea ceremony, unique in lifetime, not reproducible! There are no Noh stars... „Never forget the beginner‘s mind!“ A Noh program lasts whole day 5 Noh plays + Kyogen are performed

7 There are five Noh principles:
Sancticity & magic Stages of beauty Actor and audience Aesthetic of discord Five element theory

8 1. Sancticity & magic Sancticity of space: Space of „sacred dialog with the gods“ Magic in technique (from mimes): Acrobatics, mystical forces will power, autosuggestion: Merging self and other mask + mirror „...the mind‘s eye is opened and the soul grasped; the true Noh, hithertoo invisible, comes alive...“

9 2. Three stages of beauty Hana = appearant beauty: blossom/flower Yugen = invisible beauty: performed sublimity Rojaku(old quiet) = quiet beauty

10 3. Actor and audience Self and other, active fusion

11 1. Curtain 2. Third Pine 3. Bridge 4. Second Pine 5. First Pine 6
1.Curtain 2.Third Pine 3.Bridge 4.Second Pine 5.First Pine 6.Shite pillar 7.Eye-fixing pillar 8.Flute pillar 9.Waki pillar 10.Cut-through door 11.Back panel 12.Main Stage 13.Moat Steps 14.Pebble Moat 15.Side Stage 16.Rear Stage 17.Mirror Room


13 4. Aesthetic of discord Odd number important in Japan; against symmetry Center of shape ≠ center of space: Dynamic balance Jo-Ha-Kyu = most important aesthetic principle: Jo = „beginning“ position = spatial element Ha = „break/ruin“ = destruction, disorder Kyu = „rapid“ speed, time element Production principle for Noh program: Everything is dominated by Jo-Ha-Kyu.

14 5. Five element theory (odd number!)
Elements: wood, fire, earth, metal, water ~ 5 breaths, 5 tones, 5 organs, etc. Five Noh play categories: god, warrior, woman, madness, demon Have two time categories: present time dream time => 10 categories in plays: two time categories x five play categories

15 Masks: woman demon mad god warrior Clothes & Craft:

16 demon god woman warrior

17 Every Noh play is one cross section of the life of one person, the shite.
The shite has an appearance (demon, etc.) and subject = one of the five elements The waki is a kind of co-sub- ject and mirror person to the shite.

18 Instruments of hayashi

19 Utai‘s fushi units

20 kata: movement patterns

21 Why are gestures dominant in Noh?
Have three languages of human expression: Vocal Facial Gestural Facial is impossible because of masks Vocal is ambiguous in Japanese, bad for expression of will, reserved to lyrical evocation Noh is dance drama, no opera or ballet All characters are choreographed All movements consist of units of movement = kata (patterns) chant unit = phrase (12-syllabe line) music unit = melodic + rhythmic units space unit = za (hierarchy of places!) Everything is modular!

22 Noh gestures are reduced to unit patterns (kata) and made symbolic.
This enables much richer communication to audience than by eveyday gestures. Very important for us: „Shite waves a web of fantasy in curves.“ „Waki draws reality in straight lines.“

23 Classification of katas
Three types: Realistic, e.g., hold a book in your hand, jump into bell Symbolic, e.g., weep = hand to face and back Abstract, e.g., zig-zag = beginning of end of many dances, or extended fan Three categories: Pure dance Descriptive Dramatic

24 Have the gliding walk, transports characters horizontally through space —> white socks! One could understand Noh by observing feet! Interesting performance only in upper half of body!

25 katachi = more than kata:
chi = deity, i.e., katachi = form/shape = exterior form of kata + characteristic usage (mask, clothes, character) Dance = „text“ built from kata-units by enchaînment plus syntactical rules mai = performed kata „text“ plus music Classification of mai according to elements (music, dance etc.) Noh = enchaînment of 100 types of shodan segments basically 4 types: spoken/chant/instrumental/silence

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