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Japanese Theatre and Dance by Lisa Doolittle

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Japanese Theatre and Dance
Classic Forms
Japanese Theatre and Dance
Ainu music and dance
The earliest music and dance in Japan is that which surrounds the animistic beliefs of the ancient
indigenous peoples, ancestors of today's dwindling Ainu community of Hokkaido. The present Ainu
community is believed to be 80 per cent of mixed blood, relatively few of whom now even speak or
understand the Ainu language, let alone practice its traditional customs.
Until recently the ancient Ainu music tradition had been perpetuated by an ever-diminishing
number of elderly individuals. However, over the past decade young Hokkaido-based musician Oki
Kano has been active in reviving the Ainu music tradition with the aim of making it more relevant
for today's Ainu youth.
Much of the Ainu music and dance tradition is associated with the worship of spirit deities (kamui),
in particular those connected with animals such as the bear, the owl and the sea turtle.
Ainu dance is very reminiscent of that of Melanesia, comprising both participatory social dances
accompanied by responsorial singing and pantomimic dance such as the chikap rimse (bird dance)
which portrays flying birds and the humpenere (whale dance) which tells of the discovery on the
beach of a whale carcase and the subsequent division of whalemeat amongst the tribe.on
May 2007 Lisa Doolittle
Japanese Theatre and Dance
• Classical Forms
– Gagaku
– Noh
– Kyogen
– Bunraku
– Kabuki
• Contemporary Performances
May 2007 Lisa Doolittle
• Noh preserves what all other contemporary
theatre has lost: its origin in ritual, reflecting an
essentially Buddhist view of existence. The
performance looks and sounds more like solemn
observance than life.The actors play the role of
intermediaries between the worlds of gods and
men. In strict rhythms, out of music voice and
movement rather than the artifice of stagecraft,
time and space are created and destroyed.
May 2007 Lisa Doolittle
• Noh combines elements of dance, drama, music
and poetry into one highly aesthetic stage art.
• An art form in which so few elements say so
much. Trims off unnecessary details. The
�moment’ is important, not the plot.
May 2007 Lisa Doolittle
Noh History
• Noh developed into its present form during the
14th and 15th centuries under the leadership of
the distinguished performer -playwrights
Kannami and his son Zeami. Zeami, in particular,
wrote numerous plays which are still performed
in today's classical repertory of some 250 plays.
May 2007 Lisa Doolittle
Noh History
• Zeami also wrote a number of secret works
which explain the aesthetic principles governing
Noh and give details on how the art should be
composed, acted, directed, taught, and
May 2007 Lisa Doolittle
Noh History
• Noh flourished during Zeami's time under the
patronage of the military shogun Ashikaga
Yoshimitsu. Later during the Edo period (16031868), Noh became the official performance art
of the military government. Feudal military lords
throughout the country supported their own
troupes and many studied and performed the art
May 2007 Lisa Doolittle
Noh History
• With the societal reforms of the Meiji period
(1868-1912), Noh lost its governmental
patronage and was left to fend for itself.
• Although it nearly died out, enough performers
regrouped, found private sponsors, and began
teaching the art to amateurs so that it slowly
began to flourish again.
May 2007 Lisa Doolittle
Noh Now
• Today, like many classical performance forms
throughout the world, Noh cannot be described
as a popular art among the Japanese people as
a whole.
• Yet supporters are enthusiastic, and professional
performers are highly trained and extremely busy
performing and teaching throughout the country.
May 2007 Lisa Doolittle
Noh Now
• Approximately 1,500 professional performers
make their living largely through performing and
teaching Noh.
• There is also a wide following of both male and
female amateurs who practice and perform its
chant, dance, and instruments.
May 2007 Lisa Doolittle
• Largely based in the cities of Tokyo, Osaka, and
Kyoto, it is performed throughout the country by
professional artists, mainly men, who have
passed down the art among family members for
numerous generations.
May 2007 Lisa Doolittle
Elements of Noh
May 2007 Lisa Doolittle
Elements of Noh
May 2007 Lisa Doolittle
Elements of Noh
May 2007 Lisa Doolittle
Elements of Noh
May 2007 Lisa Doolittle
Elements of Noh
May 2007 Lisa Doolittle
Elements of Noh
May 2007 Lisa Doolittle
Elements of Noh
• What really makes Noh �Noh’ is what the actor
does with his voice or body
• Also important to the creation of the �moment’ are
the instruments you choose to accompany the
texts, the rhythm of the speech: how does it
support the structure and flow of the story?
May 2007 Lisa Doolittle
Elements of Noh
• Body and Movement (kata)
– Walking (suriashi)
– Alignment (Kamae), presence, economy
– Jo Ha Kyu (begin, develop, finish)
• Dance-mvt. patterns (Shimae)
May 2007 Lisa Doolittle
Elements of Noh
• Music
– Chant (Utaibon) 6-8 singers (Jiutai)
• narrate the background and the story itself. It also
sometimes describes the character's thoughts and
emotions or even sings lines for the characters.
– 3 different drums Taiko, Kotsozumi, Otsozumi,
– Drum �calls’ (Kakegoe) These are syllables
spoken by drummers - “yo-ho-ho’-yoi-i-ya”
– Flute (Nohkan)
May 2007 Lisa Doolittle
Elements of Noh
• Plays
Gods (Shinto)
May 2007 Lisa Doolittle
Elements of Noh
• Order of Plays
– One from each category with Kyogen in between
May 2007 Lisa Doolittle
• Comic theater which balances the more serious
• Noh emphasizes music, Kyogen emphasizes
• The two are traditionally performed alternately on
the same program and they share a common
May 2007 Lisa Doolittle
• A magnificent blend of playacting, dance and
music, kabuki today offers an extraordinary
spectacle combining form, colour and sound, and
is recognized as one of the world’s great
theatrical traditions.
May 2007 Lisa Doolittle
• Kabuki developed from dance, from the
sensuality of the actor’s body.
• Kabuki is written with the characters for �song,
dance and skill’, but it originally was a verb
meaning �outlandish, bent, or wild’.
• Kabuki has always been considered a
subversive art within the Confucian-based
ethical and political system
May 2007 Lisa Doolittle
Kabuki - images
May 2007 Lisa Doolittle
• Often incorporates the prevailing moral notions of
Tokugawa society as a mechanism upon which
plots turn. For example infa oho, (law of
retributive justice), a Buddhist notion, may result
in the destruction of an evildoer, or the bestowal
of prosperity and happiness upon a longsuffering woman. The notion of mujo
(impermanence of all things), may be illustrated
by the demise of a proud family or the fall of a
powerful military leader.
May 2007 Lisa Doolittle
• Certain ethical notions based on Confucian
traditions, such as duty, obligation, and filial piety,
may come into direct conflict with personal
desires and passions, leading to a series of
dramatic situations.
May 2007 Lisa Doolittle
• Legend/history of founding by woman performer,
�Okuni’ a female attendant at the Izumo shrine in
Kyoto who led her company of mostly women in
light theatrical performances featuring dancing
and comic sketches, gaining nationwide
recognition. (early 17th century)
May 2007 Lisa Doolittle
• Okuni’s dramas and later the genre itself became
identified as �kabuki’ - a term connoting its �out of
the ordinary’ and �shocking’ character.
• The attraction of women’s (onna) kabuki was
inclusion of sensual dances and erotic scenes.
Fights often broke out among spectators over
these entertainers, who practised prostitution.
Women were banned from performing in 1629
May 2007 Lisa Doolittle
• Then wakushu (young men’s) kabuki was
extremely successful but had exactly the same
problems (public disturbances, prostitution)
• In 1652 this was also forbidden, the shogunate
required basic reforms, plays had to be based on
kyogen, and performed by men (yaro).
May 2007 Lisa Doolittle
• The actors’ performance was the focus. Kabuki
remained very much an oral tradition in which
playwrights and performers were expected to
produce a new play for each new production.
• Woodblock actor prints brought actors into homes
throughout Japan, much like the celebrity magazines
of today. This cult of the actor led to the creation of
actors as superstars and brought many of them
fabulous wealth.
May 2007 Lisa Doolittle
• After a period of waning popularity due to the rise
of Bunraku (puppet theatre) (early 18th century)
Kabuki began to adapt Bunraku scripts to live
performers - actors even imitated the movements
of the puppets.
• Under Meiji restoration, attempts made to
modernize kabuki - not popular - and in the early
1900s actors urged a return to tradition
May 2007 Lisa Doolittle
• Now traditional style plays are performed - often
excerpted, just favorite acts and scenes
presented together with a dance (buyo) piece.
The national theatre in Tokyo continues to
present full length plays.
• The average length of a Kabuki performance is 5
hours including intermissions.
May 2007 Lisa Doolittle
• Kabuki’s image as an actor-centred and total
theatre (music, dance, gesture, song,
declamation), marked by formal, yet realistic
acting and voice, has been a constant source
of inspiration for westerners, who have felt
that modern drama’s sacrifice of theatricality
for realism has left the stage sparse of the
techniques once available to create powerful
May 2007 Lisa Doolittle
Contemporary - Butoh
May 2007 Lisa Doolittle
Contemporary - Butoh
May 2007 Lisa Doolittle
Contemporary - pop culture
May 2007 Lisa Doolittle
• General Japanese performing arts
• Kabuki
May 2007 Lisa Doolittle
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