Some Noh for Vincent

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For once I am dedicating this post: to Vincent R., a close friend who loved Japan, but was not able to come again, before ALS (Charcot’s disease) took his life about a month ago.

Yoko Layer started her acting career in Western theater, was trained in the Russian school, and was soon living abroad, in Washington State … until she decided to come back to Japan and embrace Noh, the traditional theater form associated with Japanese spirituality, enjoyed by the aristocratic and military elites. “I was playing Russian characters until I met a Russian actress, and it struck me that I would only ever be an imitator; I needed roles that I could connect with my own soul, undoubtedly Japanese”. She therefore joined the Kanze Nohgaku school. She is the first Noh actress lady I have ever met, and plays the role of a bridge between Noh and the world. She was welcoming us for a day of discovery at the National Noh theater.

Visitors to Japan will notice an often-beautiful Noh scene in major shrines across the country. As a matter of fact, like Gagaku the sacred music and dance, Noh plays are an invitation to Kami (deities), to spend time amongst us human beings, and enjoy the spectacle. The form of Noh was more or less fixed in the 14th century, and a number of plays written at that time are still staged today.

In a large number of Noh plays, a deceased comes back to earth to tell a story, or avenge himself/herself. In that sense, we can relate it to the ancient Greek theatre, often telling the stories of the Greek Pantheon and their interference with the life of human beings. Before entering the stage, behind the curtain, the masked actor playing the Shite (main character), descending from Heaven or Hell, must put himself in this particular state of mind. Yoko Layer invited us to feel that state of mind for ourselves, before passing under the curtain, and I could just guess the work required on one’s emotions, voice and gestures.

After a fun workshop, we watched a play called Suma Genji. It tells the story of Hikaru Genji (from the famous Tale of Genji), coming back from Heaven to the place he lived in, while in exile as a young adult. He performs a slow dance (Kami’s rhythm) in front of pilgrims, led by a priest of the Fujiwara family, heading to Ise. They had stopped for the night, to see for themselves the famous cherry tree Genji was said to have loved. An easy-to-understand, powerful play.

I could not help but think about you Vincent. I am waiting for your visit, in a gust of wind, or under the form you choose, in places that were special to you here. (written on the day of Easter, 2017)

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