Saying yes to Noh theatre from Japan

Saying yes to Noh theatre  from Japan

Delhiites recently witne­s­s­ed one the oldest musical dramas of Japan, Noh theatre, that has been perf­o­r­m­ed since 14th century.

Orga­nised by Japanese embassy on the occasion of 60th Anniversary celebrations of Indo-Japan diplomatic relations, a 29-member team of Kanze Noh School presented the one-hour play which had two protagonists accompanied by flautists, drummers and a chorus.

The audience was a mix of Japanese and Indians, who came enthusiastically to watch something different other than regular Indian classical dance, music and theatre events. The play was introduced by a Japanese official, who said ‘dance is most noticeable by Indians as they have a rich history of dance and music. However, it would be nice if they appreciate the spirituality of Noh theatre which has a history of 650 years’.

The three-act play, without the use of microphones, began with performers clad in traditional formal coats and Hakama skirts appearing on stage. The lead member moved in a very distinctive way, wearing white tabi socks and holding a traditional Japanese fan. He used short sliding steps known as ‘suriashi’, while singing in chorus along with other members.

The play is based on the story ‘Hagoromo’ in which one spring morning, a fisherman named Hakuryu sets out to go fishing with his companions and finds a beautiful robe hung on a pine branch. When he attempts to take it home as a family heirloom, a celestial maiden named Shite (masked performer) appears and asks him to return the robe to her.
At first, Hakuryu refuses to return it. However, he is moved by the angel, who laments that she cannot go home to heaven without it.


He agrees to return it if she shows him her dance. She accepts his offer. He, therefore, decides to give her the feather robe in return for seeing her perform a celestial dance.
The chorus by the musici­ans explains the dance as being symbolic of the daily changes of the moon. The dance of the celestial maiden is, thus, the pillar of this
drama. 

The lead role of the angel Shite was performed by Kiyokazu Kanze, grand master of Kanze School. After the play, he said, “I feel honoured to perform in India especially at a time when India and Japan are celebrating 60 years of diplomatic relations. I hope a lot of people, especially the youngsters watch the Noh drama and appreciate it too.”

As the oldest existing form of theatre and considered slow-paced, Noh is also undergoing a revival in Japan. With chorus in the Japanese language and no elements of the entertainment that Delhiites are used to, its tough to say how many appreciated the spirituality in the play, but it certainly was a distinctive
experience.

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