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This page contains articles written by Greg about Noh, related performances, events, workshops and anything else he wants to share. Please enjoy.

Kabuki Workshop DAY TWO (2/11/12)

A shorter day (only five hours) and, thank goodness, really.  It is difficult to absorb so much information and for the body to take on so many new techniques.

It’s my “ballet muscles” that hurt the most:  My hips, knees and that joint between your thigh and pelvis. –All that turning out to play heroes and turning in to be the ladies.

I got to try on a courtesan outfit!  (not a real one, of course, but a fair facsimile that Larry invented.) 
Larry was full of helpful hints and effective “Do-fors” so one can construct a million-dollar Kabuki look at a fraction of the cost. 

Sadly, because of my brand new (and rather masculine) belly, I fear my courtesan days are over, but it was fun trying to do buyo (see earlier post) in a kimono with a giant train. 
I thought that the manipulation of the dress would be part of the choreography but—oh ho!—it is completely left up to the dancer.  So there you are, trying to dance with your knees tight together, remembering to look cute, turning around into the corkscrew S-twist, and elegantly kicking your silk train out of the way. 
It’s amazing I stayed vertical.

Then we did a little bit of a ‘samurai’ buyo.  There are so many moves in a buyo it is overwhelming written out, it would be seven or eight pages for a three-minute dance. We all wished we had a week to learn and practice these dances. 
It is always fun whipping a sword around, but a little nerve-wracking with eight of us is a small room.

The second part of the day was devoted to Kabuki fighting or te (literally, ‘hand.’)  (There are lots of these as more than half the plays deal with an historical battle, or revenge killing.)

Of course, kabuki fighting differs from western-style sword combat in strange ways. 
The swords never touch.  The theatrics is the exciting thing.
Everything is accompanied by the Hoshigi (wooden sticks that beat against each other or on the floor—real loud) and
Looking cool is the main point.
What fun! 
First we did some one-on-one
Since we where learning very basic moves, each combatant performed the same choreography while facing each other.  In this way a parry is also a strike and the whole thing seemed more like a dance.

Next, we worked on a ‘one against many’ kind of battle.  I got to be the superhero--which is a lot like “star dancing.”   I stood in the middle of stage and waved my arm a little bit while everyone else charged at me in pairs.  They were defeated with a flick on my hand or I magically grab their spear and they succumb to my awesomeness.  Then more chest beating and posing.

It was an entertain afternoon despite having to wrap and re-wrap my 50-year-old knee.  By that evening the magic of learning a new art form had worn down a little.  Now the limiting palate of the form and the large holes in our (well, my) ability seemed far more apparent and frustrating.  When we read and discuss my 4th cycle piece (“Lady Jingly”) it’ll be … interesting.

Tomorrow is review, kabuki make up, and reading.  Woo-hoo!

Kabuki Weekend One

11 February 2012
Yesterday - an eight-hour workshop, Lecture/training in the here-to-fore impenetrable art of KABUKI!

Led by Lawrence Kominz (affectionately know ‘round here as ‘Larry the Kabuki Guy’) and I must say, I am still buzzing. 
Kabuki is certainly what attracted me to Japanese theatre in the first place.  I’ve always been into that “Form over (i.e., super-imposed onto) content.” 

This is the closest I’ve ever gotten to learn the technique.  Reading and viewing only get you so far:  to learn what the voice and body actually does.

Larry’s teaching style works great for me.  He’s entertaining, occasionally irreverent, a casually tuber-knowledgeable. 

The opening lecture was a sharp synthesizes of the visual, cultural, and textual import of the art peppered with insights, quips and charming asides.

Then we recited and danced.  Oy vay. 

Much food for thought there.

In this order, we walked around as:
A young lady,  (very difficult)
A little girl,  (even worse)
A servant or merchant, (which was almost like natural walking.  Almost.)
A merchant in a hurry,
A samurai,
A super-hero/villain.

One of the first set pieces we learned was the famous “Roppoh” —the violent super-hero exit.  You may have seen this,  The big hopping exit.  Roppo translates as the “Six Directions”  —as far as I can figure, you are throwing your body into three at a time (thank god) as you hop noisily.   ( I can boar you with the math / shinto theory of the exit if you buy me a drink some time.)

Next, some textual work—a grand villain who is actually a hero in disguise (don’t ask, I do ‘t know) taunting, “Just try and attach me!” (Chest beating and all!)

That was the first two hours.

Then came the Lady Dance.
I’ve been really looking forward to learning onnagata because the fourth movement of A Minor Cycle has become a piece about a tragic upper-class woman in kabuki style.   I also wondered if all those drag-shows I did would give me a leg up. 
Well, these ladies never put their legs up.  In fact, one grinds ones knees together as they walk.  (Ouch!)
Needless to say, I was pretty solid on the big “twist yourself around like a corkscrew and look prettily at the audience”, but the subtle things… I over-did.

This is Buyo Dance.  The classic solo dance form. 
It is abstractly mimetic and emotional (well, emotional for the Japanese.) and incredibly complex—many moves and actions within one dance.

After lunch; more video/lecture mostly on modern and fusion works.  (I’ll comment on that in a future blog.)

And then onto the ‘Row Man’s’ dance—a pastoral piece about the heroic man who rows a boat across stormy seas.  (more chest beating)

I never realized that so much Buyo is choreographed to Enka Music. (sorta like Eurovision … YouTube it) It’s felt kinda of silly at first by then we got into the high drama of it all.

Finally, back to speaking and storytelling. 
This time in English which was eye-opening (as the first time I heard noh in English.)  We worked from from Larry’s translation of Mishima's kabuki play The Sardine Seller’s Net of Love.  A very clever kabuki comedy which he had producd before.
At one point I was reading the “lover” role, which uses almost as much falsetto as a female role, and Larry said,  “you need to go much higher.”  Of course my first thought was “I could have done it 500 packs of cigarettes ago.” But I think with practice I can find that voice.

Listening in English is difficult, I think.  It sounds so… so… …the only word I have is “fake.”   Kabuki, after all, is about artifice.  And filling a thousand-seat house with your voice.  But in English it is startling.  Perhaps well executed, and unrelenting one grows accustomed to it.  I remember being startled when I saw it at the Kabuki-za with the top actors.  Again, artifice is so important (Form on top of Content).

We will see what tomorrow brings.  I will be bringing my ace bandage and an ice pack (OY! My knee!)

A Minor Cycle (Which should have been posted: 1 November 2011)

Slowly (as always at the beginging) I am gearing up for the full-on performance with Theatre of Yugen!  
We have already had an amazing workshop of Play #1 and Play#3.  Under Yugen’s SORYA! Program.
If you’re hearing about this for the first time, READ ON!
(If you seen me in the last few months, you know probably more than you want to—I get so excited—skip down a paragraph or two.)

The Minor Cycle is a huge work Theatre of Yugen is work-shopping and producing (their 2012 Holiday Show!) I will be billed as BOTH playwright and ensemble member.     
Here’s a part of the “hot plate” (as we say in the biz)

A Minor Cycle uses the thematic structure of a Noh Cycle, each work is based on children’s literature or folk tales and each employs a classical Japanese performance art.

Yup, 5 little plays and 5 different styles. 
To wit:   

1)   The God Play                       Kyogen
2)   The Warrior Play                  Bunraku
3)   The Woman’s Play               Noh
4)   The Mad Woman’s Play       Kabuki
5)   The Demon Play                  All Four in Tandem!  (or “Fusion”)

Actually, it is ALOT of “fusion" for we cannot really do classical Bunraku—we don’t have access to master chanters and shamisen players!  NOR are we highly trained in Kabuki.  We do, however, have a great western-style puppet creator and musicians as well as a Kabuki specialist.  Furthermore, as myself and Theatre of Yugen were, in a past life, actors and dancers, we cannot HELP but create something wonderful and strange!  

I will be blogging about it all as it develops, so check back here every now and again.

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