Utahns will get a rare chance to witness Japan's oldest existing theatrical form when it goes on display Monday afternoon at Brigham Young University.
The Noh Shakespeare Group of Japan will present a performance of "Noh Othello" in the Nelke Experimental Theatre.The performance, sponsored by the Drama Department, will begin at 5 p.m. Tickets are available through the drama ticket office, 378-3875. Also included will be scenes from "Noh Hamlet" and "Noh Macbeth."
The history of Noh theater began in the 14th century and is performed today by hereditary actors and musicians much as it was 600 years ago.
Noh is characterized by rigorously concentrated movements and a cadence of chants and music. Enhancing the performance are ornate stylized costumes and masks to create an image of theater of poetry.
Relative few westerners have come in contact with Noh.
"Shakespearean Noh" was conceived at Harvard University by NSG's director, Prof. Kuniyoshi Munakata, who was there on a Fulbright fellowship. At a lecture, he showed his audiences a familiar passage from Hamlet's famous soliloquy executed in strict Noh style. The experiment succeeded with the audience, and Munakata began to envision productions on a larger scale as a way of bringing together theaters of East and West.
From these beginnings, NSG was eventually born in 1981, based at Shizuoka University where Munakata has a chair in English classics. Comprised of semi-professional Noh actors, singers and musicians, NSG has presented its repertoire of the three great Shakespearean tragedies to audiences throughout Japan.
Of its performance, John Fraser, director of the London Shakespeare Group, said, "`Noh Hamlet' is so different from anything we can see in England. It is so completely Japanese. That is what makes it so fascinating."
NSG performs in original Shakespearean English set to Noh cadence and music. Since Noh are traditional short pieces, "Shakespearean Noh" productions focus on just one or two scenes from the original play.
Much like ancient Greek tragedy, Noh features a central actor, joined in some passages by a supporting player, who acts the story through dance and poetry to the narrative accompaniment of the chorus. A mask tends to be worn by the protagonist when portraying a supernatural or superhuman character, while mortals are often played barefaced.
Flute and hand drum provide the music. Noh movement is a stately form of dance whose emotive power derives from its exacting, highly concentrated economy of gesture. The Noh libretto, shared by actors and chorus, is sung in chant-like cadence.
The American tour, which began in Georgia Aug. 26, will conclude at California State University at Dominguez Hills Sept. 16. It is the first time the theater troupe has traveled overseas to make itself accessible to the West.